Katy McClintic, a senior at Western Washington University, is set to receive her degree this June in computer science, with a minor in mathematics. And she’s already accepted a job offer to start as a program manager at Microsoft. She’s thrilled at how far she’s come, but it wasn’t always easy.
“Getting a computer science degree is time-intensive and stressful at times,” she says.
But along the way Katy found a secret weapon – The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) – and is eager to encourage more students to follow her lead. The program, supported by Microsoft, provides Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) scholarships to help middle and low-income students. More than 5,400 students have benefitted since 2011.
“Having financial support from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship has allowed me to focus on my academics and not have to manage having a job while going to school,” she says.
Katy grew up in the small town of Duvall, Washington, where her graduating high school class was just over 200 students. Like many students heading to college, she wasn’t flush with money and worried it would be tough to hold down a part-time job and be a STEM major at the same time. The scholarship, funded through a match of public and private contributions, helped alleviate much of the financial pressure.
“Whether you’re discovering gravitational waves, working to combat the Zika virus, or developing the next neural network architecture, there are so many exciting challenges for the world’s scientists and engineers,” Katy says, when asked why high school students should consider STEM careers and apply for the scholarship.
“Pursuing a STEM major will prepare you to be the engineer of a better tomorrow,” she says. “The Washington State Opportunity Scholarship helps by providing mentors, a broad network of connections to experts in your field, career resources and, most important, up to $22,500 for a quality education.”
By removing barriers to higher education, WSOS is helping to level the playing field for Washington’s students and diversify the STEM-educated workforce, starting in the classroom. Fifty-seven percent of scholarship recipients are women, and 52 percent identify as persons of color.
“I hope people realize that there is quantifiable benefit from having more diversity in teams,” says Perry Fizzano, who chairs Western Washington University’s Computer Science Department. “Several studies show that diverse teams are more creative and productive.” Fizzano’s department has, over the last two years, doubled the percentage of women enrolled.
Jose Oronia, who studies computer science at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, represents another trend worth noting among Washington State Opportunity Scholars: more than half are the first in their families to go to college.
Jose’s father, who works in agriculture, encouraged him to do well in school and aim for college. But Jose found unexpected challenges along the way. Navigating the college application process, figuring out which classes to take, and how to declare a major are all tasks a bit harder without a parent who has been there before and can offer advice. Jose says WSOS staff provided much of that help, and also assisted him in finding internships and industry connections.
“Washington State Opportunity Scholarship staff helped me find a research workshop at Cornell University last summer,” Jose says. “I learned from hardware experts how devices rely on computer languages, such as Java, to reach their full capacity and how cloud computing works.”
Jose, a junior, is already creating things from code. He made a college preparation app that aids in the process of gathering application materials, test results and other relevant data, and makes it easier for students to search for colleges.
Like Katy, Jose also encourages high school and college students to apply for the scholarship before the application closes on Feb. 29. He cites his personal experiences to make the point.
“I probably wouldn’t be here without the support I receive from this and other financial aid,” he says. “And along with the money you receive, the best thing is the staff. They really care about your success. There’s no reason to wait – fill out the application right now. It’s an opportunity you won’t want to regret or miss.”
Students from Washington who are pursuing high-demand STEM and health care degrees, and who plan to attend an in-state institution, may be eligible. Visit the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship website for complete eligibility and application information. (https://www.waopportunityscholarship.org/new-applicants/overview)