For three Green Dot students named as Gates Millennium Scholars it means not having to pay tuition fees at their colleges of choice. Esteban Espinoza, Anacarina Gomez, and Jesus Madrid—from Ánimo Leadership Charter High School in Los Angeles’s Lennox district — were among the 1,000 seniors chosen from 54,000 national applicants to receive the prestigious award.
“I was crying, my mom was crying; it was really emotional,” recalls Gomez, who will attend DePauw University in the fall. “I knew it was a long shot. I’d gotten another scholarship for part of the money, but I didn’t have the rest. It was such a relief.”
The Gates Millennium Scholars program was established in 1999 and is funded by a $1.6 billion grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program is known for its recipients’ high completion rates: more than 87% graduate from college within six years — 28% higher than national graduation rates for all students and comparable to rates for students from high-income families.
Dr. Cristina de Jesus, President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot Public Schools California, congratulated the three students on their well-deserved honor. “We couldn’t be happier and more excited for Esteban, Anacarina, and Jesus,” she said. “We’re extremely proud of them. They are outstanding examples of what can result from hard work and dedication in a learning environment that nurtures student potential.”
It is this nurturing of potential that has helped nine Green Dot students to receive the Gates Millenium Scholarship over the past ten years. One of them, Marco Solis, attended Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School and recently graduated from Stanford University. In reflecting on his time at Pat Brown, Solis recalls that “teachers genuinely cared about me, inside and outside the classroom. They had a passion for helping others out. They held us to a high standard, encouraging us to create a plan for our lives after high school.”
Internships and Outside Validation
While the Gates Scholars’ program makes a remarkable difference for recipients, it’s just one of many opportunities Green Dot students have for financial support. Some of them arise before they graduate. Students at Ánimo Leadership, for example, can apply for more than 20 paid scholarships for summer internships at learning institutions, local companies, and nonprofits, including Aerospace Corporation and the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island. In April, junior Esmeralda Lorenzana received a $10,000 scholarship for an eight-week internship at USC’s Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.
Bringing it Home
The value of a scholarship, however, is more than just the ability to cover short-term tuition. A scholarship affords students the opportunity to pursue long-term goals: delivering a return on the initial investment that will benefit the student, his or her family, and the broader community for years to come. “I come from a low-income family, and I’ve seen how hard it is to get good healthcare,” says Lorenzana. “I want to go to school for medicine and bring it back to my community.”
Green Dot instills in its students a profound sense of self-advocacy and teaches civic responsibility and pride in one’s community. We do so in the hope that students will return from college to play a leading role in the ongoing empowerment and development of their neighborhoods. Scholarships are far more than a charitable means of paying college fees: they are a vital component of sustainable community revitalization.