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CAL student wins full-ride Gates scholarship

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Jessica Nguyen, newly minted Gates Millennium scholarship winner, says the money will allow her to attend her dream school. Jessica Nguyen, an 18-year-old senior from the Center for Advanced Learning and Reynolds High School, earned a prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship, which will pay all expenses for her at any college she wishes.

“I’m excited,” she said, grinning broadly. “Finances were a huge deal for me. (Cost) would determine where I went to school. And the Gates is like ‘here, now you can go to your dream school.’”

Nguyen’s dream school is likely the University of Washington, although she’s been wait-listed at several others. She would like to stay on the west coast, so she’s not too far from her family. And, University of Washington will accept the college credits she’s already earned from CAL classes.

Nguyen’s educational rise was no walk in the park. Her family, headed by a single mom, spoke Vietnamese and Chinese at home and she was in English language development classes in elementary school. Money was tight and the family doubled up with relatives for years.

Carol Egan, the director of CAL, praises Nguyen.

“She’s a team player who works collaboratively while mentoring others. She pushes herself beyond her own perceived limitations. She is always willing to, gracefully, lead others.”

Nguyen said she learned about the Gates scholarship from her coach with College Possible, a nonprofit organization that works with low-income students to help them get into college and be successful there. A friend of Nguyen’s from Reynolds had won a Gates the year before and pressed her to apply. “They urged to me to apply ‘for everything you can.’”

That is no small task. The Gates requires eight essays. “It got me talking about myself in a way that I would never tell other people. I was digging into insecurities and failures, that made me who I am. It was like watching myself grow.”

It is difficult to see Nguyen’s failures. She has a grade-point average of 4.255 out of 4.0, indicating she took college-level classes, which are weighted more heavily in the GPA.

Although quite petite, she is also a pole-vaulter on the track team and excels in both Poetry Out Loud and mock trial competitions. She plays violin in the orchestra, which went to state competition this year, and participates in the skills competition put on by the Health Occupation Students of America.

She is a big fan of the Japanese comic art of Manga. She’s a member of the high school Manga club and teaches the art to other students. She is in National Honor Society and Key Club at Reynolds High School.

Egan noted that “Jessica takes everything she does seriously and with grace. She always goes beyond what is expected academically and there are ample examples of how she goes beyond involving her self at her at her school and giving back to her community like blood drives and Outdoor School.”

Nguyen is planning on studying biology “I want to go into a career in the medical field. CAL cleared my vision that I want to be in medicine, especially pediatrics.”

She counts her pediatrician Dr. Hildegard Schone as one of her inspirations.

“I loved going to the doctor. I felt like I was at home. She had photos of cats all over. I want to be that kind of doctor. I love kids. I like being around those little bundles of energy.”

Egan said Nguyen “is fierce at meeting her goals.”

Nguyen’s favorite class in high school is anatomy. “The human body is so, so cool.” She likes to talk about anatomy with other people, especially when her track teammates have questions or injuries. “It is our body, we use it every day.”

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999. It gives minority students - African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander American and Hispanic American - full-ride scholarships for an undergraduate degree. It pays for living expenses as well as books and fees and offers support in other ways. In addition, Gates students can also apply for another scholarship for graduate degrees in computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.

“Jessica is goal-oriented, has high expectations for herself and always meets her goals. She wants to be a pediatrician. I have no doubt in my mind that she will not only reach that goal, but she’ll be a caring and expert doctor,” Egan said.