Hood River teens win Gates Scholar awards

April 27, 2011

Excellent citizenship, diligent study and willingness to lead are sometimes their own reward, but for two HRVHS seniors those qualities have lead to an extremely valuable bonus.

Lupe Santillan, 18, and Martha Sonato, 18, have been selected as 2011 recipients of the coveted Gates Millennium Scholars college scholarship award - two of just 1,000 awardees nationwide.

The young women received this distinction as a result of their excellent academics, history of community service and proven leadership potential.

"I'm so excited about this," said Sonato, "I'm just starting to realize that I can motivate other people, too, by setting a good example."

The GMS Scholarship Award provides financial support to fund the cost of education by covering unmet student financial need for tuition, living expenses, books, travel and college fees. Needless to say, that adds up to quite a scholarship.

"I'm definitely going to make the best of this," said Santillan, whose sister Elvia also received a GMS award in 2009. "I just couldn't believe it until I held the letter in my hand."

Winners are able to take their scholarships to any college of their choice. Both women are evaluating at least two top schools to choose between.

Santillan is leaning toward University of Washington or Chapman College. Sonato is split between Willamette University and the University of Portland. They have both already been accepted at their top choices.

GMS annually selects just 1,000 talented students from across the U.S. to receive the good-through-graduation scholarships.

Competition for the program is very high and this year marked the toughest competition yet with 23,000 applications submitted by students across the nation.

Early career aspirations include, for Santillan, the possibility of becoming a physical therapist. Sonato is interested in alternative energy, environmental science and communications.

To assist in successful graduation and career direction, Gates Millennium Scholars are also provided with personal and professional development through GMS leadership programs along with academic support throughout their college career.

Both winners credit HRVHS English teacher Nan Noteboom for supporting them throughout their application process.

"We couldn't have done it without her," said Santillan.

To be considered for the award, students complete an application which includes eight essays that must demonstrate the academic, leadership and community service experiences and attitudes of each applicant.

Successful students must also have received both a nomination and recommendation from school and community leaders to be considered.

The goal of GMS is to promote academic excellence and to provide an opportunity for outstanding minority students with significant financial need to reach their highest potential.

The GMS Program, established in 1999, was initially funded by a $1 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the minority-focused college scholarships.

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