Announcing Optimal’s Fall Quarter Scholarship Recipients

The Optimal scholarship board has chosen 26 winners for this quarter’s higher education scholarships! Optimal created its needs-based scholarship program in 2010 to further our mission to increase accessibility to higher education. Every year we award $250,000 to assist 50 students with strong career aspirations and high financial need. We award quarterly scholarships for the following categories: community college scholarship, military scholarship, undergraduate scholarship, and graduate scholarship.

Beginning this quarter, we are also selecting winners for the category of online degree scholarship. We decided to forgo awarding scholarships for the summer quarter earlier this year due to the uncertainties in academia caused by COVID-19, and have therefore chosen double the usual number of award winners this quarter. Our scholarship winners continue to inspire us with their determination to better themselves and their communities through their pursuit of higher education. We are proud to share this quarter’s winners:

  • Community College Scholarship: Francesca Bianchi of Central New Mexico Community College, Jackie Irby of East Arkansas Community College, Amber Kapila of North Central Missouri College, Thomas Lau of San Diego Miramar College, Kellee Mejia of CUNY LaGuardia Community College, Kate Castillo of Cape Fear Community College, Eric Chung of Edmonds Community College, Evan Lee of City College of San Francisco, Harmani Wilson of the College of Southern Nevada, Elena Rodriguez of Collin College, and John Salas of Rio Salado College.
  • Undergraduate Scholarship: Kevin Carranza of the University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh Campus, Rymaz Ahmed of Temple University, Mary Gohl of Salish Kootenai College, Lauren Hanson of the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, Sebastian Lopez of the University of North Texas, Elijah Coleman of Lamar University, Lilian Yuschock of Temple University, and Laura Hairston of Hampton University.
  • Graduate Scholarship: Vanessa Jefferson of the University of Alabama and Anthony Elam of the University of South Florida.
  • Military Scholarship: Olivia Harding of Brigham Young University – Idaho, Stephanie Swartz of Wayne State University, Gary Baines of Ohio State University – Main Campus, and Haley Malloy of the University of New Haven.
  • Online Degree Scholarship: Mainhia Ly of Metropolitan State University.

While this quarter’s scholarship winners reflect a wide range of backgrounds, identities, interests, and life experiences, they all share the common goal of creating change in their own lives and the lives of those around them by achieving their educational goals. Our award recipients come from diverse backgrounds and have valuable perspectives to bring to the academic world: they’re immigrants, first-generation college students, caretakers of young children or older adults in their lives, members of the workforce (often working multiple jobs), and many are overwhelmed by the cost of modern education. Like so many Americans, they are also struggling with the effects of COVID-19, be it the loss of a job or internship, or trying to manage the fear of illness and its associated medical costs.

These students’ academic interests are as varied as they are themselves. Our scholarship winners are studying subjects like engineering, psychology, nursing, biology, marketing, computer science, and food and beverage management. Some students come from families that made enormous sacrifices to enable their children to pursue higher education. Others did not have great role models at home and yet were still able to persevere and follow their dreams.

Despite the barriers and challenges our award winners have faced, they are all driven to leverage their educational opportunities as a tool for positive change for their families and communities. We are inspired by their vision and honor their determination and perseverance. Like our scholarship winners, Optimal understands that education is more than just a degree or a certificate; it is the foundation for a better future. Scholarship winner Mary Gohl expressed the importance of this fact by drawing attention to what her education will mean for her children:

“I do not want my financial situation to be the reason I do not get my degree... getting a nursing degree would be a life-changer for us. It would put us all in a better financial situation for the rest of our lives. I want [my children] to know that everything I've done is for them.”

Are you or someone you know interested in applying to one of our five scholarship categories? We encourage you to apply by the deadline for the next round, which is December 31, 2020. Winners of our quarterly scholarships are selected based on answers to two main questions: “What do you anticipate for your first five years outside of college?” and, “Are there any special familial or personal reasons contributing to your financial needs?” Visit our scholarships page to learn more and view the application.