Students Inspiring Students adds 9 more winners

Story by Theresa Smith
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU New Bureau

When Eh Win was 6, she and her parents, Ku and Poe, left their home in Thailand and settled in west Phoenix. She grew up one mile from Grand Canyon University and dreamed of becoming the first person in her family to attend college.

The oldest of six children, Win established herself as an honors student at Cortez High School and began attending the ACE (Academic and Career Excellence Centers) at the Learning Lounge on the GCU campus for help with her classes and to begin banking the 100 hours needed for eligibility for a Students Inspiring Students (SIS) scholarship.

On a marvelous Tuesday night, Win’s dream came true. She was among nine students awarded SIS scholarships with a surprise celebration on the patio of GCU Ballpark at Brazell Field.

Eh Win receives her scholarship award from a LEADs tutor.

“Tonight is your night,’’ Dr. Joe Veres, GCU’s Vice President of Student Success, told the awestruck assembly of SIS recipients, their parents and siblings, who thought they were on campus  for a mandatory scholarship information meeting. Instead, they were greeted with applause by ACE staff and Learning Advocates (LEADs) and feted with balloons, refreshments and music.

“We always try to keep it a surprise because being able to capture those feelings is so cool to see,’’ said K12 Program Manager Megan Serafini.

Win and her parents smiled through tears of joy.

“It is a huge opportunity,’’ Win said. “My mom was like, ‘Try to go there (GCU), it is walking distance, you do not have to worry about housing.’’’

Win will live at home and hopes to major in pre-pharmacy or pre-med.

Along with the other recipients, she met the requirements for the fourth-year program: demonstrate financial need, maintain a minimum 3.5 Grade Point Average (GPA) and attend 100 hours of tutoring in the Learning Lounge.

In return for the SIS scholarship – four years of tuition and books – recipients will pay it forward, providing academic support and mentoring in the Learning Lounge for the next group of K-12 students.

Police officer's daughter

The average GPA of the nine scholarship winners is a weighted 4.1. The students represent six different high schools, including Greenway High School, where SIS recipient Anahi Martinez is president of the National Honor Society and owner of an unweighted 4.0 GPA.

Phoenix police officer Gabriel Martinez and his wife, Griselda, are all smiles as they look at their daughter, Anahi.

Her mother, Griselda, is thrilled that her daughter will attend GCU on scholarship.

Griselda Martinez kisses her daughter, Anahi, as the celebration begins.

“I am so proud and excited to see what the Lord has for her,’’ said Griselda, a teacher’s aide who was accompanied by her 10-year-old daughter, Kaely, and her husband, Gabriel, a Phoenix police officer.

“Thank God everything is OK and I can be here,’’ he said. “We always thought of GCU for Anahi. Her uncle is an alumni, we respect GCU as part of a community anchor and especially being a Christian university -- that is very important for us.’’

Kaely was not surprised her sister was among the first recipients of the scholarship – 41 more students will be selected in March.

 “She is always doing her homework,’’ Kaely said.

Martinez said, “I have always been a reader. I love to read and write. I have been writing my own stories since I was 5. I have always liked school.’’

Family matters

She challenges herself with the most demanding classes, particularly Advanced Placement Language and Composition, AP U.S. History, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Calculus and AP Government. If she tests as well as expected, the AP credits she will earn will give her nearly sophomore status next fall at GCU.

“This is why I am working so hard and taking AP classes,’’ Martinez said. “I was hoping to get a scholarship so my parents would not have to pay for it. I will be the first generation in my family to attend college.’’

When Martinez and fellow SIS recipient Giselle Loredo need help with AP Calculus, Maddie Bradshaw is waiting in the Learning Lounge to guide them.

LEADs (Learning Advocates) applaud the SIS winners, high school students they have tutored this semester.

Bradshaw, a junior mechanical engineering major from Washington, was among the LEADs cheering for the nine SIS recipients.

“It is really fun to get to see their faces light up because it is something they’ve all worked hard for,’’ Bradshaw said.

K12 Outreach Director Shari Stagner greeted every happy recipient and their families.

“This is something that is near and dear to our hearts,’’ she said. “We love these kids; they become part of our family in the Lounge because we see them so much. I feel like the Lounge Mom for these kids.’’

Evolution of selection process

Stagner shared her perspective on the changes within the fourth-year program.

“The selection process has evolved,’’ she said. “Not that we didn’t in the past, but now more than ever we are intending to select students who will stay with us. Of course, for the University we want to ensure that we have retention, but more than that, we want these students to be successful.

“We already know the challenges they have coming into this. Nine times out of 10 they are first-in-family college students and so there’s a whole host of challenges that come with that. We’ve had a front-row seat for all of those challenges, and we are trying to support students through those challenges.

“We work to be more proactive. We can get on the front side of that and be more careful about screening. Yes, academics matter. Yes, doing their hours in the Learning Lounge matters -- because it says something about their commitment to college. But we also have attended more carefully to what the LEADs have to say about them. They have always weighed in, but we attend more carefully to what the LEADs have to say about them because they are the ones who are interacting with them the most and they have a better read on their personalities."

From left, Megan Serafini, K12 Program Manager; Shari Stagner, K12 Outreach Director; Dr. Joe Veres, Vice President of Student Success; and Norberto Rayas, K12 Outreach Coordinator, address the scholarship recipients.

In the recommendation process, the LEADs are asked specific questions that reveal character traits of SIS candidates, such as resilience.

“We figure, if these students are spending so much time in the Lounge, who knows them better than LEADs?" Serafini asked rhetorically. “After the grades and the majors, LEADs recommendations are the very next thing we look at in awarding scholarships.’’

The revised screening process includes preferences for students planning to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), education or business.

Business leader

As an aspiring business teacher, Miranda Cain fits two of those content areas – she plans to be a high school business teacher.

The senior attends Sunnyslope High School, where her mother, Marilyn Matias-Davoll, teaches English. Her aunt, Norma Matias-Engram, teaches business. With the guidance of her aunt, Cain started the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club at her school. Her initiative was also evident in the Learning Lounge,when she helped a high school junior with algebra after Cain finished an assignment for her AP Statistics class.

“I am real excited to attend GCU,’’ Cain said. “I’ve wanted to go here for a long time.’’

Cain’s cousin is a GCU freshman, another cousin is a GCU employee and Cain attended a business camp on the GCU campus last summer and interacted with several professors and the dean of the Colangelo College of Business, Dr. Randy Gibb.

Jeremy Cubbage is one of three students from Metro Tech High School who were awarded scholarships. The trio deal with transportation dilemmas to log their time at the Learning Lounge. Sometimes, they ride a school bus from Metro Tech to Alhambra High School and then walk to GCU. Other times, they take the city bus, and occasionally they borrow a family car.

The sacrifices paid off Tuesday night.

The scholarship winners show they already know how to get their Lopes Up.

“We were just expecting information on the next step of the process,’’ Cubbage said of himself and his father. “When we saw the balloons and the lights, and realized we won the scholarship, me and my dad were open-mouthed.

“I come from a low-income family, so I knew from the start of high school that I had to step up my game. That’s the whole reason I started going to the Learning Lounge. I knew my family couldn’t pay for college. I’ve met some really good people at the Learning Lounge and some really good tutors.’’

As Veres summarized, “It is a program that works. It is nice to see the students spend time at the Learning Lounge, get awarded the scholarship and thrive on campus. They have the ambition and they have the academics. They are very bright, remarkable young men and women that just needed the financial boost in order to go to college. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be part of this scholarship to give them what they have deserved and to maintain the dignity of their families.’’


Name High School
Miranda Cain Sunnyslope
Jeremy Cubbage Metro Tech
Fatima Al-Shamari Metro Tech
Giselle Loredo Metro Tech
Connor Gibbs Greenway
Anahi Martinez Greenway
Eh Win Cortez
Yasmin Romero Alhambra
Graciella Geiser Bourgade Catholic

Contact Theresa Smith at (602) 639-7457 or [email protected].


Related content:

AZ GCU surprises 25 high school seniors with full-tuition scholarships

GCU Today: GCU awards 50 more Students Inspiring Students Scholarships


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(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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