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Monday, May 9, 2016

Stuart Foundation helps students go to college

Some of the Stuart High School graduates who received scholarships from the Stuart Educational Foundation.

Hundreds of Stuart High School graduates from lower-income families were given an opportunity to attend college thanks to the help they got from the Stuart Educational Foundation.

Since the foundation was created 10 years ago, it has raised nearly $900,000 and provided scholarships to more than 390 Stuart graduates.

In recognition of that success, Diane Kilbourne, the foundation’s president for the past five years, was named the Mason District 2016 “community champion” by Supervisor Penny Gross. The community champion program is sponsored Volunteer Fairfax.

“Diane’s dedication to helping studentsmany of whom are ESL studentsachieve their dream of postsecondary education is inspiring to community members who are donors, students who are recipients, and volunteers who ensure that young people can succeed,” Gross says. “Diane works quietly behind the scenes, but her contributions truly make a difference in many lives.”  

One of the first scholarship recipients, Liana Montecinos, an immigrant from Honduras, graduated cum laude in three years from George Mason University in 2009. She is working as a paralegal while attending law school at the University of the District of Columbia and founded her own nonprofit, United for Social Justice, whose mission is to enable more low-income and at-risk high school students to gain access to higher education.

Among the other scholarship winners:
  • Thien Thanh Nguyen, an immigrant from Vietnam at age 16, graduated summa cum laude from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in biochemistry and currently attends the Medical School at VCU. 
  • Asha Noor, of the Stuart class of 2008, graduated from Michigan State University, earned a master’s degree from GMU in conflict analysis and resolution, worked with various non-governmental organizations, and is considering earning a PhD. 
  • “I could not achieve all the accomplishments I did today without the generous donation and support from the Stuart Educational Foundation,” says Fan Chen, who immigrated from China at age 16, started taking ESL classes at Stuart, then moved on to the International Baccalaureate program. He graduated from Virginia Tech and now works as a corporate bond analyst at Wells Fargo Securities.   
  • Ayana Wilson graduated from VCU with a double major in criminal justice and homeland security and emergency preparedness and currently attends law school at Emory University. 
  • Yong Wu immigrated to the U.S. from China three months before starting Stuart. After earning a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, he started a PhD program at the California Institute of Technology. 
  • GMU graduate Mirella Saldana Moreno says the scholarship from the Stuart Foundation provided more than financial support: It mean there were people in the Stuart community who believed in her and had confidence in her ability to succeed. She plans to return to GMU to pursue a master’s degree in education.
The foundation was started “because some people in the Stuart PTA realized an there were an awful lot of talented kids who didn’t have the money to attend college,” Kilbourne says. So they formed a nonprofit and began raising money. This year, the foundation will surpass the $1 million mark. 

Last year, the foundation distributed $145,000 to 66 students. Scholarship amounts usually start at $1,500 and can go up to $5,000, depending on the student’s needs, Kilbourne says. Some of the scholarship recipients go directly to a four-year college, while others start at Northern Virginia Community College, then transfer. 

This year’s scholarship winners will be announced at the Stuart graduation ceremony in June. In selecting recipients, the foundation considers students’ academic success, rigor of coursework, school commitment and activity, community involvement, commitments such as family support or jobs, and recommendations from faculty and community members. 

The Stuart Foundation formed partnerships with the Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club, Bailey’s Crossroads Lions Club, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Those organizations contribute to the Stuart Foundation and also raise additional money for scholarships. 

“About three years ago, we got in touch with as many awardees as possible and asked them to tell us how they did in college,” Kilbourne says. “We were very gratified. Many had gone on to graduate school.” 

“They said the Stuart Foundation was crucial,” she says. It helped them get their foot in the door, and once they got to college, they found other ways to pay for their education. 

The foundation raises funds through a direct mail campaign and fundraising events. Contributions can be made on the foundations website. 

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