Imperial Valley College Journalism

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Gates Scholarship Making a Difference for Imperial Valley Students


By Joe Robles
Erik Gallegos grew up in low-income neighborhoods of Calexico, California watching many people around him succumb to abject poverty.

“I have seen neighbors fall down due to the pressure in society such as drugs, teen pregnancy, violence, and more,” Gallegos said. “The only source of income was less than the minimum wage that my father would receive.” But instead of allowing those problems to affect him, Gallegos said he used them as motivation to succeed in life.

Erik Gallegos, 18, studies for his finals at UC San Diego in November 2009, making sure to maintain a high GPA to retain his Gates Millennium Scholarship.

Erik Gallegos, 18, studies for his finals at UC San Diego in November 2009, making sure to maintain a high GPA to retain his Gates Millennium Scholarship. --Photo by Joe Robles

Today, Gallegos, the 18-year-old son of Mexican immigrants, is well on his way to achieving that goal as one of the recipients of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, a prestigious academic award given to minority students studying in the science disciplines.

“Since the inception of the program, we have selected 25 scholars from the Imperial Valley,” said Carlos Adrian, a Gates research and data analyst. The total amount of money awarded to local students in recent years is nearly $543,000, he said. In just 2009 seven Imperial Valley students received the GMS: Erik Gallegos, Beatriz Nunez, Matthew Wong, Julie Wu, and Alexis Hernandez from Calexico; Sophia Park from El Centro; and Estephania Cortez from Imperial.

Gallegos, a freshman at University of California, San Diego majoring in computer science, said he had to prove to the Gates foundation that his hard work and leadership activities made him a good candidate for the scholarship.

“I believe I got this scholarship because of my hard effort and determination to make a difference,” Gallegos said. “My family has been extremely supportive of my schoolwork and have always believed in me, especially my mom.”

(Left to right) Calexico High 2009 grads, Erik Gallegos, Julie Wu, Beatriz Nunez, and Matthew Wong attend a Gates Millennium Scholarship conference at UCLA to meet other GMS scholars from around the nation.

(Left to right) Calexico High 2009 grads, Erik Gallegos, Julie Wu, Beatriz Nunez, and Matthew Wong attend a Gates Millennium Scholarship conference at UCLA to meet other GMS scholars from around the nation. --Photo by Fue Xiong

For many high school students with hopes of attending college, scholarships like the GMS make a world of difference in reaching that goal in a timely fashion.

“My senior year, my dad was unemployed which we barely had money for the month,” said Beatriz Nunez, 18, who graduated from Calexico High School in 2009 and now attends University of California, Los Angeles with a Spanish major. Nunez said her current GMS amounts to $26,155 for tuition, books and housing. But that money only kicked in after other academic awards and parent contributions of about $500 were made.

Ana Medina Montez, a 31-year veteran teacher at Calexico High, recommended Nunez for the GMS. “You want a kid that will make a difference in the world,” Montez said. Every year Montez has to pick the best students who have a desire to do better and meet the qualifications for the scholarship. She has nominated six students over the years, and all six have been awarded the scholarship.

Alexis Darrell Castro, 17, (left) and Denise Saldana, 16, fundraising for their Calexico High School organization. Castro has plans to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship in the spring.  --Photo by Eduardo Chavez

Alexis Darrell Castro, 17, (left) and Denise Saldana, 16, fundraising for their Calexico High School organization. Castro has plans to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship in the spring. --Photo by Eduardo Chavez

The process of applying for the GMS is a rigorous one. Each candidate must have at least 3.3 grade point average, be active in leadership and community events and be recommended and nominated for the award by two faculty members.

Alexis Darrell Castro, 17, a Calexico High school student is planning on applying for the scholarship. “It is a great opportunity to focus on my studies without having to worry about the payment,” he said. Castro hopes that with his grades and leadership experience, he will able to receive the scholarship. “I worked really hard to get to where I am,” he said.

Regardless of Castro’s struggles, he said he never doubted his vision of receiving a higher education. “I don’t know exactly how it will happen, but I am certain it will,” he said. Castro wants to get a degree in sociology as a means of helping others get to college.

Neither his plans nor those of Erik Gallegos are for lofty, financially motivated reasons.
“I plan on coming back to my community and help students be informed about college and prepare them for it,” Castro said.

And as Gallegos said, “I believe that one person can make a difference in the world. Whether it’s helping one person go to college or many students go to college, we can all make a difference and that’s what I want to show people.”

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