November marks National Scholarship Month, a time to reflect on the incredible impact scholarships have on students’ lives. Every award improves postsecondary attendance and completion for students across the board. So truly, this month is a celebration of access and opportunity. While the awareness is national in scope, our focus remains on the extraordinary achievements happening here in southwest Washington communities.
Scholarships Keep Students Going
For me, it’s also deeply personal. As a first-generation student, the scholarship I received to transfer from Clark College to Washington State University Vancouver helped me immensely. I graduated with less of a financial burden for one. More importantly, it reminded me that I had a team of people in my corner. The thought of them cheering me on kept me going, especially during the most challenging times.
My connection to education continued long after receiving my degree. First, I served as a Program Director, then the College Program Director with I Have a Dream of Southwest Washington. Now, I have the honor of serving as Scholarship Manager at the Community Foundation. In these roles, I’ve worked alongside students and have seen how scholarships transform their outlook and achievements.
Scholarships: A Key to Postsecondary Education
According to the How America Pays for College report, 61% of families used scholarships to pay for college in 2023.
The impact was profound for these families. In fact, 79% said the scholarship they received made it possible to attend college. This sentiment resonated even more strongly for those with lower incomes, first-generation students, and Hispanic and Black families.
Beyond mere financial support, scholarships are also a source of pride for students. In short, scholarships make students feel seen, valued and capable. This confidence boost is important as they embark on a new leg of their academic journey.
Celebrating Achievements and Second Chances
This year, our scholarship program provided this multifaceted support to hundreds of students. Powered by the vision and generosity of donors, we marked a record year of $1.1 million in scholarships for 381 worthy students.
A significant contributor to this growth is our General Scholarship Fund. We launched this fund three years ago to support determined students who narrowly miss other awards. Since then, more than 40 donors have gotten behind the purpose of this fund.
Like other scholarships, this one weighs academic achievements and potential. However, it also recognizes the personal hurdles students have overcome, such as financial instability, language barriers, family emergencies, disabilities and more. Through this holistic approach, our scholarship committee identifies exceptional applicants whose accolades might otherwise get overlooked or undervalued.
This year, 28 such students received awards that provided an average of $2,696.
Stories of Triumph and Resilience
I kicked off National Scholarship Month in a unique way myself. Typically, I mail out award letters to General Scholarship Fund recipients. This year, I decided to connect with each of them virtually for an “informational interview.” In all actuality, I was calling to share the big news about their awards.
What unfolded was truly special. Each student shared a bit about themselves: their educational journey, their passions, their goals and their triumphs. To give you a glimpse, here are five of their stories.
Griffin grew up in China for 11 years with little access to education until he was adopted and landed in Vancouver. He gratefully accepted the challenge of integrating into a new family and culture. While daunting for anyone, Griffin also lives with achondroplasia—the most common form of dwarfism. He sees this adversity as a strength. It has inspired him to work hard, catch up to his peers and pursue new opportunities, like scholarships.
He graduated on time from Mountain View High School, earning four consecutive athlete scholar awards for maintaining good grades and serving as captain of the swim team his senior year. In his spare time, Griffin works on perfecting his English and likes to volunteer. This year, he dove into an environmental science degree at Clark College to work on issues surrounding climate change and sustainability. While the college lacks a swim team, Griffin still trains with his club in hopes of competing at the Paralympic Games.
Jaime has fond memories of helping his dad fix the family car. YouTube was the go-to repair manual and taught Jaime about alternators, brakes and more. These experiences, along with a small engines class, sparked his early desire to become a mechanic. But Jaime’s educational journey took an unexpected and traumatic turn when his mother passed away his freshman year.
The experience left a hole in his heart that brought on anxiety, depression and loneliness. His grades slumped and he felt like doors were closing all around him. This all changed his senior year when a counselor and mentor asked him, “How can we get you to where you want to be?” It reminded Jaime of his mother’s “ganas” or desire to keep pushing forward. Jaime is living out this maternal value today. He is working part-time to pay for his classes at Clark College, pursuing his dream as an automotive technology student, and sees his scholarship as a reminder to never give up.
Rachel is a strong, graceful and motivated woman. She earned her medical assistant certificate right out of high school and worked in a variety of care settings, moving up the ranks as she went. She eventually landed a role as a clinic supervisor that allowed her to press her talents into supervising a team, maintaining quality control and improving workflows. An abrupt round of layoffs took this from her, but she saw it as an opportunity to earn her management degree.
Her family and friends encouraged her to go for it, but she knew the financial burden it would place on her husband and two children. Rachel forged ahead anyway, knowing the credential would help her step into positions that desperately need people who think and look like her. She hopes to deliver on this purpose when she becomes a first-generation college graduate and a healthcare administrator who is ready to effect real change.
After thirty years of chasing a degree, Kelly started questioning her path. Her educational journey has been interrupted by several family emergencies. This is what happens when you volunteer to raise nearly 30 children — including six nieces and nephews currently in her care — with little financial support.
Attending college as a working parent is especially difficult, but Kelly managed to finish her junior year pursuing dual degrees and earning multiple honors. She doesn’t qualify for traditional financial aid, so scholarships are her only option outside of accruing debt. On top of the financial support, her award also reminded her that hard work pays off. Her next goal is to become a project manager in the tech field. She hopes this role can provide enough flexibility to continue providing her kids with unconditional love and support — something she missed as a child — while also showing them that she never gave up on her dreams.
Growing up in Stevenson was isolating for Arriana, but it had nothing to do with the rural geography. They lived in an abusive household for 16 years before bravely reaching out to get help for her and her mother. The experience still hurts, yet Arriana is finding ways to turn the pain into positivity.
They are laser-focused on three priorities: family, health and school. With this steady determination, she made the honor roll every year, created a Women’s Rights and Advocacy Club at school and worked as a youth advocacy leader at a local domestic violence shelter. Today, they are a first-generation student at WSU Vancouver majoring in human development, with a focus on social services. Her ultimate goal is to become a domestic violence counselor so that she can help others find their way to safe, secure, happy lives. Their scholarship helps make that dream possible. More importantly, it’s a reminder that they are smart enough, capable enough and good enough to reach their goals.
As you can see, students like these are excelling against the odds, and these awards add even more momentum to their pursuits. Their reactions said as much, and you can see some of the video highlights here. You’ll see the surprise on their faces, but also gratitude for the caring strangers who chose to invest in someone else’s future. And that brings me to my final reason to celebrate National Scholarship Month.
Opening Doors, One Award at a Time
At the Community Foundation, we can’t acknowledge National Scholarship Month without recognizing the compassionate donors who make student dreams possible.
The collective support of our community has unlocked the benefits of scholarships for hundreds of local students. Moreover, by helping others achieve their educational dreams, you are contributing to the growth of our economy and the well-being of our communities. The impact carries on as these students move forward.
This year, we are working to make more of these stories possible by growing the General Scholarship Fund. We invite you to be part of this transformative journey. Make a donation today and open doors for local students like Griffin, Jaime, Rachel, Kelly and Arriana.
Join us in making their dreams a reality during National Scholarship Month by showing your support for education and our community. Together, we can build a future of endless possibilities.