By Tracy Correa
FRESNO – Carlos Corona thought he was being led into a room at Fresno City College to answer some additional questions about a scholarship he was hoping to receive.
Instead, the 30-year-old U.S. Army Veteran was floored when he walked into an auditorium today (May 28) and a crowd of people yelled, “Surprise.”
As camera flashes began going off and with balloons floating in the background, a PG&E representative told Corona that he had won a Bright Minds Scholarship from the utility – up to $30,000 a year for up to five years.
Then Raj Beasla, PG&E’s Central Valley corporate affairs director, and Angela Vega, from PG&E’s community relations department, handed Corona an oversized check. On hand were Fresno City College officials, some of Corona’s friends, news reporters and other representatives from PG&E.
A stunned Corona stood for a moment without saying a word and then looked at the check and said, “I don’t think this is going to fit in my wallet.”
Corona is the first of PG&E’s 2013 Bright Minds Scholarship winners to be notified this year; the other nine will be notified in the coming days and weeks. Last year’s winners were also told during surprise announcements at their schools or other locations.
This is the second year that PG&E will award up to $1 million in Bright Minds scholarships to help high school, college and “non-traditional” students achieve their higher education goals. Winners will receive full-ride scholarships of up $30,000 per year. Program finalists will receive $2,500 awards for college.
Vowing to succeed
Standing behind a podium as television news cameras rolled, Corona said, “This is not going to go to waste.”
The community college student was planning to pursue a criminology degree and go into law enforcement. Now, he said, with the scholarship money, he is also considering going further — possibly obtain a master’s degree and teach English.
Corona has not had an easy path. Born in Mexico, he moved to the United States at age seven and grew up in the small Fresno County town of Fowler. He and his two siblings were raised by a single mother who worked as a farm worker to support the family. Corona also worked in the fields during summer breaks.
He later signed up for the U.S. Army Reserves and was called to active duty in 2003 and 2004 in both Afghanistan and Iraq – serving in two military invasions. Corona said he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) adding, “I struggle with it on a daily basis.” But, he has never let any of it get in the way of his dream of getting a college education.
“I am the first in my family to go to college,” Corona said. “And, I’m the first male in my family to graduate from high school.” With the PG&E scholarship, he said, “Now, I don’t have to worry about where the money will come from.”
A humble guy
Mario Reposo, a Fresno City College counselor who helped guide Corona, said he could not be more proud of him. Reposo cried when Corona walked into the room and was handed the check, adding: “And it takes a lot for me to cry.”
Corona is a very humble guy, Reposo said. He said Corona doesn’t just excel academically, but that he is caring and giving to his fellow students and his family.
George Railey, vice chancellor of State Center Community College District, which oversees Fresno City College, commended Corona for his military service and dedication to school, and thanked PG&E for supporting higher education.
Hours after he learned of his scholarship award, Corona was still stunned. “To be honest, when I applied, I thought I had a next-to-nothing chance,” he said. “I really do appreciate the chance to go to school and I really do appreciate PG&E helping me.”
More than 6,000 students applied for this year’s scholarships.
Other 2013 Bright Minds Scholarship winners include:
(Click here to watch video interviews with three of the 2012 Bright Minds winners.)
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com