Luz Chavez will be the first member of her family to go to college, a dream she’s confident she’ll achieve after winning over $15,000 in scholarships last week.
“I’m set for my college to be paid for,” said Chavez, 17. “My family and I don’t have that much income, but it just made me feel like it all paid off.”
The funds will send Chavez to attend Central Wyoming College in Riverton, where she plans to study veterinary medicine. After she earns a two-year degree she’ll transfer to a university.
A whopping $820,000 in scholarships was awarded to the Class of 2019 on April 23 during the annual Teton County Scholarship Awards Night. For comparison, $660,000 was handed out in 2018.
The extra money matters. Erick Alpizar, 19, plans to enroll at Central Wyoming College-Jackson to study civil engineering or architecture. He too will be the first in his family to continue his education after high school.
Asked if he would have gone without the scholarships, he paused.
“Probably not, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t think so. I’m just grateful for all the people who provided money. It’s really helpful for some people like me.”
Sharlotte Castaneda, 18, said she is in a similar position. As a new mother she doesn’t have a lot of resources to pay for her own education, but she won $8,000 in scholarships, which will go toward studying business at CWC-Jackson.
“It helps me a lot,” Castaneda said. “I would have just not gone to college.”
More money, scholarships
This year’s list of scholarships was so long that Jackson Hole High School counselor Emily Hoffer told the crowd they had to print programs on legal-size paper to fit them all.
“I really admire the diversity of student accomplishment that’s recognized,” Hoffer said. “Students are good at celebrating academic and athletic achievement, but this night celebrates all types of talents and goals.”
Jackson Hole High School Principal Scott Crisp said the night is “probably our most impactful community event.”
Eighty-eight scholarships — some with more than one student per award, some for four years, others for one year — were announced for both private and public school recipients.
“These students here tonight spent hours on hours filling out applications, interviewing and doing the work it takes to be successful,” Crisp told the audience.
Take 18-year-old Guadalupe Mungia. She applied for 20 scholarships and wrote an estimated 15 essays on top of all her other schoolwork. All students submit a general application that goes to every scholarship they apply for, but many scholarship committees ask for supplemental materials.
Counselors are an integral piece in the process, communicating with donors, helping establish new scholarships, rewriting descriptions as they evolve and managing the entire monthslong application process between students and donors from start to finish. Counselors also provide workshops during school to help students with this work.
The application is open from mid-December to the end of February.
Mungia said she felt good being able to assist her parents in the cost of attending Idaho State University, where she wants to study art, music or business.
“I’m the first generation in my family,” she said. “It’s going to help my parents. They’re pretty proud.”
Fellow senior Ashley Cranston, 18, earned scholarships that will help her pay for her freshman year at the University of Wyoming. She wants to double major in art history and archaeology.
“I have a twin brother, and my parents are putting us through college at the same time,” said Cranston, whose brother Shane also won a matching scholarship.
‘Favorite night of the year’
Family, friends and students packed the Jackson Hole High School auditorium to attend what Hoffer always said is her “favorite night of the year.”
It’s easy to see why. Students were recognized for everything from grades and test scores to athleticism, patriotism, intended career paths, financial need and, perhaps most importantly, character.
Everything from Teton County family lineage to a love for soccer to parents’ place of employment likely has a matching scholarship or two, as do similar interests and personalities to former students who died young.
Classmates let out whoops and raucous cheers when their peers won big awards or were repeatedly called to the stage.
Jonathan Machuca-Gonzalez, 18, was one of those students. He was awarded $8,000 for a first-in-family scholarship and won several other financial awards, including the Michigan State University STARR Scholarship. It covers not only his tuition, room and board but also expenses like food and flights to come home.
“It really caught my attention,” he said. “Especially the full ride. I wanted to do my best to get it.”
Machuca-Gonzalez wants to study physics. He said he’s thankful for the help that came along with the first-in-family scholarship, including a college mentor to help with deadlines, the application process and essays.
“I was completely a stranger to this whole process,” he said.
Though he thinks his parents will be sad to see him go, Machuca-Gonzalez said they’re “super stoked” for him.
“I think they’re ready, and I’m ready as well,” he said.
Scholarship offerings expanded. Some grew — like the Rotary Club of Jackson Hole, which offered 30 percent more multiyear scholarships this year with the goal of getting more students to the finish line. Eight were entirely new.
“It’s a tangible difference in a student’s life that comes from the effort of a village,” Hoffer said.
In the days since Scholarship Night students have met with school counselors, ready to commit to their colleges.
“It’s exciting,” Hoffer said. “Ultimately, no matter where students are going to college, we know that kids will invest more when they know they are invested in.”