Everett student earns Gates scholar honors

  • Mon May 3rd, 2010 9:20pm
  • News

By Eric Stevick Herald Writer

EVERETT — Her father tried to impress upon Vanessa Garcia the importance of an education at an early age.

So, when she was 6 or 7, the Spanish-speaking immigrant father read her stories with the best English pronunciation he could muster and have her write short summaries.

Her mother, too, talked to her about making the right choices in life, particularly in the impressionable middle school years. She always regretted not continuing her studies in Mexico and becoming a nurse. She wanted more for her daughter.

Garcia, 18, took her parents’ wishes to heart and received encouragement from many teachers along the way.

She worked hard in school, did well and recently received a life-changing e-mail for her effort.

“I started screaming,” Garcia recalled. “My mom didn’t know what it was. She yelled something in Spanish. She thought something was wrong with me. She thought I was crazy.”

The e-mail explained to the Everett High School senior that she is a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Millennium Scholar, which means she will receive a full ride to a four-year university and, depending on her interest and her area of study, could have a masters and doctorate degree paid for as well.

Gates Millennium Scholars, Virginia-based nonprofit, looks for bright minority students who face significant financial barriers to attending college.

Each year the foundation awards 1,000 scholarships nationwide. This year, 33 were given to high school students from Washington state. Alan Garcia, a Mountlake Terrace High School senior, was the only other student from Snohomish County on the list.

The Gates scholarships were established in 1999.

Garcia began to think she could earn a Gates scholarship when she watched another Everett High senior, Pfuc “Philip” Bui, receive a Gates scholarship at an assembly in 2007.

“It’s not like I’m a genius,” she said. “I just do what I have to do.”

That means, as her parents taught her long ago, homework before play.

She also was part of AVID, an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination, a class designed to assist and inspire low-income, ethnic minorities or students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

“Vanessa has met and exceeded all of my expectations,” said Jane Johnson, who teaches AVID classes.

Garcia said she hopes her success rubs off on other Hispanic students. She has seen too many friends become pregnant or struggle in school.

Things are looking up, however.

Garcia is part of the executive council of the school’s Latin Image Club, which includes 50 to 60 Hispanic students. The club started eight years ago, largely to try to keep students in school, said Lillian Ortiz-Self, a school counselor and club adviser.

Since then, its goals have expanded to include getting students into college. All five seniors on the 10-member executive counsel plan to go to college next fall. Four are headed to four-year universities.

“As one makes it, they all strive harder,” Ortiz-Self said. “Vanessa continues to strive and be that role model. She pulls others up with her. For four years, she has led by example.”

Garcia, who works at a shoe store, has been accepted into the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. She also is interested in studying math, her favorite subject.

It has been a whirlwind of good news for the honors student. She recently learned she has received an internship with the Boeing Co. this summer under a program that also lets her continue her calculus studies.

Some day, she hopes to return the favor.

“I’m not sure what I want to do yet, something with math or maybe international business,” she said. “I know I want to have a career that can help people.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.