By Tracy Correa
BAKERSFIELD – Aaron Sproul thought he was going to a final interview for PG&E’s Bright Minds Scholarship Friday morning.
But instead of facing an interview panel at PG&E’s Service Center, he was greeted with shouts of “surprise,” colorful balloons and media cameras.
Sproul stood near the doorway stunned for a moment until Kristen Doud, a PG&E community relations representative, showed him an oversized check and told him he was a $30,000 Bright Minds Scholarship winner.
“This will save my life,” he said, as he got an emotional hug from his aunt Tina Kolosky.
This is the second year that PG&E is awarding up to $1 million in Bright Minds scholarships to help high school, college and “non-traditional” students achieve their higher education goals. Ten students — four of them now named — will receive full-ride, renewable scholarships of up $30,000 per year and program finalists will receive $2,500 awards for college.
Sproul, who was home-schooled in the Kern County mountain community of Breckenridge, has overcome personal challenges that included estrangement from his mother causing him to live on his own since his late teens and helping his father who was disabled after suffering a stroke.
“I definitely did not have the classic ‘I lived with my parents and went to college,’ ” said Sproul.
Initial struggles at college
The 32-year-old applied mathematics major at California State University, Bakersfield struggled with college initially because of health issues that included severe physical and mental fatigue that made it difficult to read and concentrate. But he has overcome these obstacles and now maintains a 4.0 average. He also works as a math tutor at both Bakersfield College and Cal State Bakersfield.
Sproul said the PG&E scholarship could not have come at a better time because he didn’t know how he was going to pay for his remaining education and can’t afford to take out any additional student loans.
“He is very deserving of this and I’m very happy for him,” said his uncle Drew Kolosky, who along with his wife Tina and daughter Lexie, helped surprise Sproul. They are about the only family that Sproul can rely on lately.
Kolosky said he has tried to help Sproul financially over the years and even gave him the proceeds from a recent property sale to help meet his college expenses. “But his money is running out,” he said. “Seeing this today was exciting.”
Hopes to become a field engineer
Sproul said his dream is to work in an engineering-related field: “Maybe directional driller or some other field engineering position.” He hopes to graduate in spring 2014 with a bachelor’s degree but hasn’t ruled out continuing toward a master’s degree or Ph.D.
The scholarship will alleviate the pressure and stress Sproul said he constantly felt over how to pay for school. Added Sproul: “My future looks brighter than it did an hour ago.”
Earlier this week, Carlos Corona, a Fresno City College student and U.S. Army veteran, learned he had won a Bright Minds Scholarship, too. Lake County student Laura Onate Solis was surprised with news that she had won the scholarship during class at Lower Lake High School and Oakdale High School graduate Danny Wong was surprised Thursday at a local café.
Last year’s winners were also told during surprise announcements at their schools or other locations.
Email Tracy Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org.