$100,000 for Coca-Cola scholars

Coca-Cola scholars

Left to right: Denisse Gonzalez, Midhadu Kedir, Xuan Nguyen, Rebeka Mekenon, Michelle Cauich, Janessa Agpaoa, Nora Abdi, Pedro Suarez, Tiger Song. (Dureti Bilal not shown) (Marc Studer photos)

By Douglas Esser
The University of Washington Bothell has received a $100,000 scholarship grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation to increase the number of students who succeed at becoming the first in their families to graduate on time from a four-year college.

Officials believe a $2,500 annual scholarship combined with programs of timely academic support and engagement can make a big difference in retention – the number of first generation students who stick with college to graduation.

The inaugural Coca-Cola Engaged Scholars were selected in fall quarter and are each receiving $2,500 a year for four years. The first-year students invited to meet Friday with their team of faculty and administrators are: Nora Abdi, Pedro Suarez, Xie C. “Tiger” Song, Michelle Cauich, Dureti Bilal, Rebeka Mekenon, Xuan D. Nguyen, Denisse Gonzalez, Janessa Agpaoa and Midhadu Kedir.

Coca-Cola Foundation logo"For more than 20 years, The Coca-Cola Foundation has provided scholarships to students who are the first in their families to attend college," said Lori George Billingsley, vice president, community relations, Coca-Cola North America. "We're proud of the impact these scholarships have on the lives of the recipients, and we appreciate all that the university does to support them."

The scholars were selected from the Academic Transition Program, which is designed to help historically disadvantaged, low-income and first generation students. The program identifies students who show promise in overcoming adversity and a strong motivation to succeed in college.

ATP students take a three-week class before the start of fall quarter to get up to speed and learn what it takes to succeed in college. They receive tutoring in writing and math and academic mentoring. These students also benefit from UW Bothell’s First Year and Pre-major Program (FYPP) in which students share Discovery Core classes. 

Janessa Agpaoa“When I walked into the pre-fall class, I felt like I belonged, and I was worthy of higher education,” said Agpaoa, left, who plans to major in biology.

She says she survived her high school in Seattle with a “bare minimum” but in her first quarter at UW Bothell she has an A-minus.

“I just want to know how can I raise that A. It’s just the complete opposite of high school,” said Agpaoa.

ATP currently has 39 students. Twenty-seven of them applied for the Coca-Cola scholarship, and the 10 were accepted, says Sara Ali, program director.

Pedro SuarezSuarez, who graduated from high school in Yakima, says the Coca-Cola scholarship encourages him to apply for more financial aid. He says the ATP program has “kept him on track” because college has been a really big change and there’s no procrastinating.

Suarez, right, plans to major in law, economics and public policy. He was accompanied by his father at Friday’s meeting. He said his English isn’t good, but it’s clear how proud he is of his son.

The hope for the Coca-Cola scholars is that the $2,500 in combination with the existing services will keep students on course. Probably the No. 1 reason for any student failing to graduate – the stop out rate – is financial. Tuition at UW Bothell is about $3,500 a quarter. Even students receiving some financial aid can come up short for other expenses, says Melissa Arias, associate vice chancellor for advancement and external relations.

After the first-year programs, the Coca-Cola Engaged Scholars are subsequently expected to take part each year in a high impact practice available through the Student Success Center, such as study abroad, undergraduate research, community-based learning or internships. Those practices help students connect learning with life. Students discover their passion, decide on a major and make career choices. There’s a correlation between students engaged in those practices and graduation.

If the Coca-Cola Engaged Scholars pilot program is successful, officials hope they will be able to expand the scholarship to all ATP students. 

UW Bothell already is a leader in the number of first generation students it admits and graduates. This academic year, 49 percent of the incoming first year students are first generation. Nationally, that number is about 30 percent, according to the federal Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.