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’She’s going to be that kid’

South Medford High senior Yosalin Arenas has been awarded Oregon State University's prestigeous Presidential Scholarship, which covers $40,000 toward her tuition should she choose to accept it.(submitted photo).
South Medford High standout receives prestigious Presidential Scholarship

Angel Garcia just had a feeling about Yosalin Arenas.

The latter came into Garcia’s life as a seventh-grader at McLoughlin Middle School. Garcia, a transition specialist for TriO, a Rogue Community College program that counsels potential first-generation college students, immediately saw something special in the enthusiastic, determined teen.

“(Arenas) came to our workshops,” Garcia said, “and honestly, I know this will sound cheesy but literally from the day I met her I’m like, ‘She’s going to be that kid. She’s going to be the student that goes super far and does amazing things.’ All students are great … but I could tell with her, she had so much motivation and ambition. I knew where she would be as a senior.”

Fast-forward five years and Garcia’s instinct have proven right on the money. Already one of Medford’s most accomplished student leaders and an academic star, Arenas, now a South Medford High senior, found out March 6 that she has been awarded Oregon State University’s prestigious Presidential Scholarship. The most valuable scholarship the school offers and one of its most competitive — only Oregon high school seniors with at least a 3.85 unweighted GPA or 4.20 weighted GPA are even considered — the Presidential Scholarship awards the winners $40,000, or $10,000 per year for four years.

Students who apply for it are evaluated based on a holistic review of their application for admission, “with specific attention to their accomplishments, contributions, experiences, and talents; their achievements within the context of their social and personal circumstances, and their participation in activities that demonstrate their academic potential, leadership abilities and commitment to service.”

So unexpected was the news that Arenas did not even know what it was when the box arrived in the mail March 6. Inside was a coffee mug, a T-shirt and other swag courtesy of the Beavers, and the letter. She thought the details inside that letter basically spelled out exactly what most college applicants get, but she was put straight after sending a picture of the notice to Garcia.

Arenas’ longtime counselor in all things college related, Garcia read the letter, knew exactly what it was and flipped out.

“I’m like, ‘You know what this means? This is like all of your tuition for four years.’” Garcia said of the big reveal.

Arenas could hardly believe what she was hearing. “And I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I have no idea what you are talking about,’” she said. “And she let me know and then I got really excited and I was able to tell my family. That was very exciting for us.”

The cost of tuition at Oregon State for an undergraduate Oregon resident this school year is $12,165, but that does not include room and board, books and other costs, which more than double the final price tag to a hefty $29,300 a year. Arenas applied for several other scholarships and grants, from local to national, and will wait until all of those come through between now and the end of April to decide whether to accept OSU’s offer.

And yes, it’s possible she won’t accept it because with a resume like hers, Arenas will likely have plenty of options. She serves as an Oregon state board student advisor, and in that role worked as a student representative on Oregon’s Healthy Schools Reopening Council. She’s also part of the Racial Justice Committee, attending meetings that include Gov. Kate Brown. Locally, Arenas has been an advocate for students during the gradual reopening of schools as South Medford High School’s student body president. And under the weight of all those responsibilities, somehow Arenas has still managed to carry a 4.0 GPA.

“I am busy,” she said.

Only the most accomplished students receive presidential scholarships, and Garcia says Arenas’ best qualities go far beyond her dedication to academics committee attendance marks. She’s submitted dozens of personal statements and essays during the scholarship application and admissions process, and her answers likely made her stand out even more than she already was.

“They asked for a lot of details,” Garcia said, “so she was able to really show them herself, her heart, her dreams. Within those essays — because I read them all and proofread them all — you could just see from all of those that wow, this young woman is just truly outstanding. So when they read them I’m sure they saw that. She is just unassuming, kind, and she’s so genuine. Happy.”

Arenas says if she does end up at Oregon State, she’ll probably major in family science. She is interested in cognitive science, which she describes as a mixture of different brain sciences. Should she go that route, she already knows exactly what she wants to do with her degree, which would be the first in her family.

“Specifically,” Arenas said, “helping youth and empowering them as well. Through cognitive science it really allows you to venture into somebody’s world and perspectives that allow them to grow.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.