Staying busy and meeting new people paid off big for Sandy Cervantes. The 2009 Corvallis High School graduate learned in May that she was one of 1,000 students across the country to earn a scholarship through the Gates Millennium Scholars Program.
The good news capped a lengthy application process that began last November and involved writing eight essays ranging from her leadership abilities to her future goals.
But it was her community service, Cervantes said, that earned her one of the prestigious scholarships out of the 20,000 students who applied. The past four years, she has volunteered with the Benton County Youth Commission, the Boys & Girls Club and the local 4-H chapter.
Gates scholars are selected based on their academic performance, community service record and leadership potential.
Established in 1999 and funded by a $1 billion grant from Bill and Melinda Gates, the scholars program aims to provide educational opportunities for outstanding minority students needing financial assistance.
Cervantes, who will attend Oregon State University this fall, will have tuition, fees, books and living expenses covered through graduation. She plans to study environmental engineering at OSU.
"It's a huge relief," Cervantes said. "Now I don't have to worry about extra money. I can focus on school."
The scholarship is renewed annually to scholars who meet certain academic standards, maintain full-time status and submit required paperwork in a timely manner.
Cervantes first learned about the scholarship opportunity from her mother, Marta Calderon, when she was in middle school. Calderon was finishing up school at OSU and heard about the program through a friend. She encouraged her daughter to apply when she was a senior in high school. Calderon said she was overjoyed when she learned her daughter had earned the scholarship.
"She's been such a hard worker in the community," Calderon said. "I call her a servant because the past four years, she's served her community."
Cervantes has spent the summer relaxing and visiting family. Her OSU classes start Sept. 28.