The California Strawberry Commission has announced it is awarding a record number of annual scholarships this year to the children of strawberry farm workers who are pursuing their dreams through higher education.
From throughout the state's strawberry growing regions, 234 students--high school graduates and those currently enrolled in trade schools and institutions of higher learning--will receive a combined total of $200,510 in scholarships for the 2013-2014 school year.
Now in its 20th year, the program has awarded more than $1.7 million to 1,487 children of California strawberry farm workers. Of the 2013-2014 scholarship recipients, 117 are from the Watsonville area, 67 from Santa Maria, 46 from Oxnard and four from Orange County.
"We place a value on supporting as many eligible students as possible," said Neil Nagata, scholarship committee chair for the California Strawberry Commission. "We believe it is critical to not just provide financial support, but also to send an ongoing positive signal to these students that we are committed to them over the long haul."
Awards are based on individual merit and are sent directly to the student's school to be applied toward tuition and books. To qualify, scholarship applicants must have at least one parent who has been employed as a strawberry farm worker for the past two consecutive seasons. Students must attend an accredited vocational trade school, junior college or four-year university to be eligible for a scholarship.
A little over half of those receiving funding this year represent existing students at four-year universities, community colleges or professional trade schools.
"For us, the goal is not just getting students into a college or trade, but helping them throughout the process so they are able to remain in school and ultimately complete their chosen degrees or certifications," said Nagata.
The California Strawberry Scholarship Program has contributed to the successful completion of educational degrees, including bachelor's, master's and doctorate programs. Many recipients have entered professions that enable them to build professional careers and give back to their families and communities. Others are close to reaching their dreams of graduating.
One such student, Carolina Mendez, is set to graduate with her bachelor's degree in environmental science from UC Berkeley in the fall of 2013. After graduation, she plans to pursue her long-term goal to obtain a doctorate and work as an environmental consultant for the government, a private corporation, or the nonprofit sector.
"I'm extremely thankful for the money I received from the strawberry scholarship program, because it helped with the cost of tuition, and math and science materials, and just eased the overall economic pressures," she said. "I'm especially thankful to my parents, who picked strawberries for years--they are a big motivation for me--and the reason I'm continuing to pursue my goals."