D.C. public school students are currently on spring break, but next fall, 10 of them will be able to attend George Washington University at no cost, thanks to full-ride scholarships they received earlier this month.

The group of students from eight schools across the District won free rides through GWU’s Stephen Joel Trachtenberg program, named after the university’s 15th president who retired in 2007. Since it began in 1989, the program has funded the costs of tuition, room, board, books, and fees for more than 160 students from D.C. GWU officials surprised the 10 students selected for this year’s scholarships in local classrooms.

According to GWU Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Karen Stroud Felton, this is the first year that the winners will be able to participate in a “Summer Pathways” program, allowing them to take one GWU class over the summer to “ensure a seamless transition to college.” The university received approximately 90 nominations from high-school counselors, she adds, and the applicants were evaluated based on the senior students’ academic performance, demonstrated leadership, community involvement, and teacher recommendations.

“They are amazing students and we want them to strongly consider GW,” the dean says, noting that although the students aren’t obligated to matriculate, “the vast majority” do so. “We think it’s important to provide opportunities in our backyard. We’re very proud to be an active member of the Washington, D.C. community; we want to encourage students to think about higher education at every opportunity we have.”

On Friday, City Desk chatted with three of the winners.

Originally from Guatemala, Carlos Lopez Sanchez of Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1) came to the District on his own three years ago and wants to become an engineer. He participates in his school’s robotics club and last year formed a debate society in which he and others discuss political and social issues. “I really feel happy sharing with my friends, so that they also feel comfortable,” Sanchez, a Brookland resident, says. “My main purpose is to make them talk and think.”

“At the same time we’re studying how to communicate with everyone,” he continues. “Which is really fun.”

Asia Jones of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School (Ward 1) was born and raised in Southeast. She hopes to become a pediatric doctor and currently serves as the president of her high school’s international club, which educates students on different cultures. She volunteers at Raymond Educational Campus and helps take care of children ages two to five at a child development center near her home. A self-identified “nerd,” Jones says she’s excited to stay close to her family and home during college.

“I’ve noticed a lot of D.C. residents don’t take advantage of what’s here in the city,” she explains. “I do want to say here, and I want to learn more about my city. I’ve lived here my whole life, so I feel like it’s my duty.”

Mikias Gebremeskel of Roosevelt High School (Ward 4) moved from Ethiopia almost two years ago, and he now lives in Riggs Park and aspires to become a dentist. He currently works at a server at a restaurant and will soon begin an internship at D.C.’s Children’s Hospital. His sister, who also attends Roosevelt, followed him to the U.S. about a year after he arrived.

“My teachers in D.C. have been really helpful,” Gebremeskel says. “For example, my English teacher knows I’m foreign—that I came from another country—and always puts me on the spot to challenge me.”

Per GWU, the seven other D.C. students chosen for the program are:

  • MD Ahammed of Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1) [who] Grew up farming in Bangladesh. He is an apprentice at the National Building Museum and intends to pursue a degree in computer engineering.
  • Lisa Le of Bell Columbia Heights Education Campus (Ward 1) [who] tutors middle school students in math and will use this interest in numbers to pursue a business degree in accounting. Numbers aside, her passion for literature led her to be the first place D.C. winner in the Library of Congress’ Letters About Literature contest.
  • Sakiya Walker of Duke Ellington School of the Arts (Ward 1) [who] is active in debate and her school’s student government association and aspires to attend medical school.
  • Adel Hassen of School Without Walls (Ward 2) [who] helped coordinate the 2015 D.C. STEM Fair and is currently conducting research devoted to uncovering the truth of the Super Bowl’s economic impact. With his interest in education and economics, he intends to study mathematics.
  • Daniel Nguyen of Capital City Public Charter School (Ward 4) [who] is the co-captain of the robotics team and senior class president. He was motivated to focus on his academics in hopes of being nominated for a SJT scholarship after serving as a translator for the family of a former SJT scholarship winner.
  • Nathan Hanshew of Washington Latin Public Charter School (Ward 4) [who] wants to pursue a career in medicine and has already jump-started his career as a cadet member of the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad and is an emergency responder for the Montgomery County First Aid Unit.
  • Jarid Shields of Eastern Senior High School (Ward 6) [who] participated in an exchange program to Japan to further her interest in Japanese anime and will pursue her other interest in biology in college.”

According to GWU, roughly 90 percent of SJT scholars have graduated from the university. Next year, the on-campus cost of attendance is more than $68,000 per year.

Logo via GWU