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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 23, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Epilogue: Year of struggle ends with hard-won scholarships

Maika Bui, right, a promising student from a low-income neighborhood, has been guided toward college since grade school through the Rainier Scholars program. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Maika Bui, right, a promising student from a low-income neighborhood, has been guided toward college since grade school through the Rainier Scholars program. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

It’s decision-time for high school seniors across the country, with word coming via mail and telephone about college acceptances (or rejections), as well as scholarship awards that can make a life-altering difference — particularly for those who are the first in their families to seek higher education.

Such hurdles make front-end college guidance essential. But for many students the advice they get is bare-bones, at best, because school counselors routinely juggle caseloads of more than 500, as a Times story described last month. This hard reality makes good news all the sweeter for students in two programs successfully filling the void.

Maika Bui, mentored by Rainier Scholars, is now headed to the University of Washington as an engineering major. Last month, the Garfield High School senior also received word of a $10,000 scholarship from the Washington Pulp and Paper Foundation — on top of what the university has already promised.

“If Maika’s an example of whether Rainier Scholars is successful in preparing students for college, I’d say yes, definitely,” said Mike Roberts, executive director of the foundation.

Yet despite top grades, Bui weathered her share of disappointment when several schools she’d considered slam-dunks turned her down.  A personal call from Roberts informing her of the award wiped that all away in an instant and gave Bui the sense that “they truly care and will take me under their wing” as she prepares to “kick global warming’s butt.”

Meanwhile in California, a troupe of recent college graduates who mentor high school students through the College Advising Corps can celebrate the accomplishments of Cali Nguyen, who was was recently awarded a Gates Millenium Scholarship.

Among the most generous and prestigious grants available to students, the scholarship will cover all of Nguyen’s costs at Stanford University, where this daughter of a night-shift gas station attendant plans to study chemical engineering.

Despite obvious discipline, Nguyen insists that her 22-year-old CAC adviser, Jennifer Alcaraz, provided essential hand-holding and assistance with paperwork. Apparently so.

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