Over $4 million in STEM-related scholarships being awarded to students in region


YAKIMA, Wash.--Hundreds of South-Central Washington high school students who are pursuing college degrees for high-demand jobs will get some much-needed help with their tuition.

"Every year we're needing more people in the STEM field," said East Valley High School senior Lulu Vaca.

Vaca knows how important science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, related jobs are to local and statewide industries.

"Ever since I was little I always liked science and learning new things and I also love math. And then I like helping people and I want to go into the medical field," said Vaca, who will attend Whitworth University and study bio-chemistry.

She and 16 other East Valley high school seniors are being awarded the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS).

Students who go into STEM-related college majors can earn up to $22, 500 in tuition help.

"An award like $22,500. That's life changing," said ESD 105 STEM director Mark Cheney.

Last year, 107 students in the ESD 105 region earned just over $2 million in WSOS scholarships.

This year, those numbers jumped to 179 students getting over $4 million dollars, a 60-percent increase.

"I think it was key this year to identify who are those STEM champions in each school who really have a relationship with kids and families and can come alongside and help them through the application process," said Cheney.

It's money that local students aren't taking for granted as they enter college.

"Anything in the STEM program is going to take a lot of schooling so any kind of little help I can get money wise, here and there is definitely going to be a big help and so I'm very grateful to get this scholarship," said East Valley senior Julianna Gainer, who will attend CWU and study pharmacy.

Especially those who're struggling to find ways to pay for their education.

"There's low income families out there and some kids want to be doctors and they need the money in order to pay for college," said East Valley senior Francisco Gainer, who's attending CWU to study biology.

And with help on the way for those graduating this year, don't expect STEM leaders to rest on their laurels heading into next year.

"$4 million is exciting, next year when it's [$7 million] I'm going to be even more excited," Cheney said.

This year students in the South Central Washington STEM network are receiving the second-highest amount of scholarships out of 10 STEM networks in the entire state.

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