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Banks alumni pay it backward through education foundation

Jacquie Van Hoomissen sent mice into space with NASA before earning her Ph.D. and becoming a college professor. Adam Heiser started writing and producing a documentary for Odyssey Productions in Portland after working for the NBC and CBS networks in New York. Terry Ball is continuing his education in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University after spending eight years working on nuclear submarines in the U.S. Navy. Kim Strassel works on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

All four are Banks High School alumni who were sent on their way with scholarships from the Banks High School Alumni Foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The foundation sprang from a group of 1930s graduates, who “knew the value of support by family and friends,” according to a foundation brochure.

It gave out its first scholarship in 1988 to students who graduated 50 years after the founding members walked on stage in their caps and gowns.

Over the next 25 years, the foundation distributed more than $190,000 among 120 Banks High School seniors to help them offset university, community college or trade school costs.

The foundation, an Oregon public nonprofit corporation, relies entirely on donations and volunteers.

Of the seven scholarships it awards each year, some are based on standard criteria such as merit, need and extracurricular activities. But others have more specialized criteria that get them into the hands of average students or students interested in agriculture. One is set aside for a student's sophomore year of college.

“We try to cover every aspect of the student body,” said Banks High School guidance counselor Tim Hardie.

Most Banks High School seniors graduate. Only 1.5 percent dropped out in the 2009-10 school year, lower than the 2.1 percent for the 2008-09 school year — which is lower than the state average of 3.4 percent for both years.

In 2012, 72 percent of graduating seniors attended a four-year university, community college or trade school the following fall.

“Students come back and say, ‘Wow. That scholarship really helped me piece it together.’ These scholarships are incredible,” Hardie said. “They give students something to shoot for. They provide money, acknowledgement, confirmation, affirmation and a reward for students who have reached high.

"Anytime an organization like this foundation steps up it’s very meaningful for everyone.”