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Gates Millennium Scholar Rises from South El Monte High
Sometime during her fifth-grade year, Kira Rodriguez turned her gaze skyward.“I just had a lot of free time and there was a free library…I just started picking up different books, trying to figure out what I liked, she said, “and that just happened to be studying astronomy.”
The South El Monte High School senior, accepted to study astrophysics next fall at the University of California, Berkeley, is now looking at a full-ride scholarship that could take her through her planned doctorate, thanks to the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, established in 1999 through the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Rodriguez is one of the 1,000 new Gates Scholars selected annually. The program supports high-achieving minority students in severe financial need who would “otherwise would be excluded from higher education,” said a prior-year foundation press release. The foundation declined to tell the Mid Valley News, ahead of a scheduled May 1 announcement, if any other students from El Monte Union High School District are joining 2016’s Scholar class.
Extended funding is available to Scholars who remain in good academic standing and pursue post-graduate degrees in math, science, engineering, education or library science.Despite the public attention that will surely come her way as a Gates Millennium Scholar, Rodriguez asserts “achievement and leadership and even success isn’t defined by an award, a medal, a trophy. It isn’t just defined by how well you do in school,” she said. “It’s about the people around you and the potential you have to make a difference and improve everyone else’s lives.”
That approach, she said, is “really important to me” and what she believes the Gates Millennium Scholars Program seeks in the people it selects. “It’s definitely about making a positive impact on society and the world.”
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