Rotary Sharpens Scholarship Scope

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Rotary’s 2020 graduate from the University of Oregon, Ariana Organiz. Photo courtesy of Kelly Lyon.

The table could be anywhere in Tualatin, but the people seated at it and the work in front of them is unique and powerful. A Rotarian and a scholar are focused. An educational plan is getting a roadmap. New opportunities are coming to life. A college career is becoming a reality. One generation before, such a plan would not have been possible. Things have changed and doors have opened. Rotarians and young adults alter life trajectories; one club member and one student at a time.

This scene has played out in our city for the past seven years. A student from Tualatin High School has been awarded a Rotary Scholarship. In 2013, the Tualatin Rotary Club began to offer a financial pathway for first generation college students. In addition to funds of $18,000, the club provided the scholar an additional means of support in a mentor. A member of the club volunteers to work with a student for five years. The future college graduate is selected in the junior year of high school. Mentoring is in full swing during the important senior year in Tualatin and continues for the four years of higher education. One scholar admitted that “it is hard to go through this world without a role model and advice.” A member of Rotary provided these necessities for her educational journey.

Scholarships are no stranger to Rotary members. As a service organization, Rotary has been on the forefront of educational opportunities worldwide. Teacher training and coaching; schooling for refugees and students living in poverty; scholarships for low income communities; and help for basic education and literacy have been tenets of service for Rotarians around the globe. Lisa Thorpe, a mentor in Tualatin’s scholarship program, explained that “while offering scholarships to students is not unusual for Rotary Clubs, offering a mentor for the recipient’s college preparation and journey is, and it is what makes our program unique and special.”

The Rotary Club of Tualatin had provided honorary scholarships to high school students since Tualatin High School opened in 1997. These monetary gifts were one-time honors and much smaller financial commitments. In 2013, members voted to change direction and hoped to increase the impact of a scholarship on each recipient. Knowing that the college drop-out rate is the highest in the freshman year, the club made provisions for a mentor to be in place one year before college and every year after until the student graduates. Each student now receives $4,500 a year for the four years of education. The plan has been successful. The club now has four college graduates and five students in the program.  The community of Tualatin will soon have new social workers, teachers, political activists, physicians and business entrepreneurs. One graduate stated, “My plans did not consist of going to college. My parents hoped I would graduate from high school and then I would get a job. It is surreal that I am a college graduate. It is a dream that became real thanks to Rotary.”

Being a mentor is also a learning experience. The expectations and support needed vary from scholar to scholar. There are no cookie cutter instructions on how to mentor. Some students are very self-sufficient and manage to navigate their education with minimal assistance. Other scholars spend countless hours with their mentor. They learn how to set up bank accounts, how to select the right classes, how to ask important questions of college counselors and how to balance family and school life. As the five- year relationship continues, most mentors and recipients build hard and fast friendships.  Personal growth is a two-way street for both participants.

Becoming a Rotary Scholar is a challenge.  Students apply for the award in their junior year. The application is designed to discover a qualified and confident student. Grade reports and extracurricular activities are examined. Job experience is noted. Talent and passion in the arts, academics and sports are included. A committee of staff members at the high school sort through the twenty or more applications each year. They narrow the field down to four candidates. The Rotary Scholarship Committee then interviews the students and makes the final decision. At the young age of sixteen, students affirm their own ambitions and undergo a lengthy interview process. Their personal stories are filled with moments of trial and triumph. Each student has risen to a place where college is a challenge that is well deserved.

Ariana Organiz is the 2020 graduate from the University of Oregon. She has a major in political science and a minor in international studies. She is doing advocacy in campaign work and nonprofit management. She has a fulltime job with the Oregon Student Association and provides trainings for students to advocate for themselves. She is also working part time to ensure reproductive rights and health care for women, especially Latina women. Ariana said, “Because of Rotary, I was able to work for all that I now have and will do in the future.” Her mentor, Lisa Yarborough, added, “The scholarship made a life changing impact for Ariana and I trust she will steward her education well. She has grown into the confident, self assured and socially minded young woman she is today.” 

Rotary’s first COVID-19 quarantined scholar will begin her college experience in a few weeks. Asia Jean Petrus heads to the University of Oregon. She may take some classes online. She might encounter a hybrid college module. Asia is ready. She will study Family and Human Services and looks for a career in social work. She is grateful for the Rotary scholarship and hopes to repay it through service to others. She sees herself working to shore up and strengthen the Foster Care System in our state. She has mentored struggling teens in high school through the InterCambio program and feels that she can use her education and drive to make foster care a better place for children of all ages.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have success.” The fifty members of the Tualatin Rotary are not willing to accept just one life’s improvement. They are striving to add a new student every year. To keep this program strong, the club must raise $20,000 a year.  Anyone reading this article can join with the club and support a scholar. Your financial contribution will be accepted with gratitude and cheers!

Our community will be stronger and richer thanks to these scholars. If you are interested in becoming an educational steward, contact the Rotary club at www.tualatinrotary.org.