Local college students happy about increase in opportunity scholarships

Awards go from $1,000 to $5,000

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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For some college students, opportunity grew fivefold Wednesday.

Southwest Washington recipients of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarships gathered at WSU Vancouver on Wednesday to hear the good news that the awards for college juniors and seniors will increase from $1,000 to $5,000 for the 2013-2014 school year. That $4,000 increase is significant in the tight budgets of college students.

It means that Natasha Trachsel, 25, a Vancouver junior majoring in biology, can work just one part-time job instead of multiple jobs. She'll continue working as a scribe in the emergency room at Adventist Medical Center in Portland. But she can give up her second job of teaching computer systems to medical staff at various hospitals.

"I won't have to worry so much about paying the bills," said Trachsel of Vancouver, who plans to apply to medical school in 2014.

That extra $4,000 means Tracy Larson, 26, a Longview junior studying mechanical engineering at WSU Vancouver, will be able to focus more on her studies instead of cobbling together a living with three part-time jobs.

Four days a week, she spends $50 to $60 on gas to commute from Longview to Vancouver. Over two semesters, she spends from $1,600 to almost $2,000 on gas to get to school. The extra $4,000 will pay for all her gas and help toward her other expenses.

Larson, 26, a transfer student from Lower Columbia College, is a single mother who can't work nights and care for her 4-year-old daughter, Zuri. Like most older students, Larson is a head of household and pays for rent, her car and living expenses. She's also a Navy veteran.

"Next year, my G.I. Bill ends," Larson said. "Without scholarships, I couldn't accomplish this."

Larson plans to specialize in hydropower and green technologies.

Benjamin Griffith of Hazel Dell, a senior studying electrical engineering, received a $1,000 Opportunity Scholarship, which he said paid for his books and traveling expenses this fall. Griffith will graduate before the $5,000 scholarships are awarded next year.

The $1,000 Opportunity Scholarship allowed Katie Gonzalez, 35, a computer science student at Clark College, to quit her job to concentrate on her studies and her three children. Her husband, Isaac Gonzalez, is supporting the family. "It's been tough," Gonzalez said, "But the extra $4,000 will really help when I transfer to WSU Vancouver next fall."

Mack Hogans, a Washington State Opportunity Scholarship board member, made the announcement of the increased awards in a room filled with students, college administrators, legislators, and representatives from Boeing and Microsoft. The two corporations committed a combined $50 million in a public-private partnership that includes $5 million from the state. The scholarships are for

Last spring, during its inaugural scholarship round, about 80 WSU Vancouver students -- and almost 3,000 students throughout the state-- received $1,000 Opportunity Scholarships.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com.