Posted on July 5, 2017

PG&E’s STEM Scholarship Winners on Path to Becoming Tomorrow’s Leaders

By Hailey Wilson

Civil war. Poverty. Personal Illness.

These are some of the challenges that PG&E’s Better Together STEM Scholarship winners have overcome to excel academically and within their communities. The scholarships are awarded to students pursuing fields of study in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM.

Take, for example, student Prabhjot Singh. He spent the early years of his childhood working shoulder to shoulder with his family in the lime-green wheat and rice fields of India. He never dreamed that he would have the opportunity to attend college. Now, a decade later and already a lifetime of trial and triumph to his name, Singh is attending the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall with a PG&E Better Together STEM Scholarship in hand.

“I felt many emotions when I learned that I had won the PG&E Better Together scholarship. I felt happy, honored, proud, but most of all, I felt relieved— relieved that this scholarship will enable me to fully devote my time and attention to my education in order to attain my academic goals without worrying about my financial strains,” he said.

Singh is one of 20 outstanding students from Central and Northern California receiving this year’s Better Together STEM Scholarships. In total, PG&E is investing $400,000 in these students’ futures. The scholarships, worth up to $5,000 a year and renewable for four years, lifts a financial burden off the students and their families.

Overcoming adversity

Each PG&E scholar has surmounted daunting challenges, from poverty to illness to breaking through language barriers. San Mateo student Sethmi Kachchakaduge has had her share.

She was born into the Sri Lankan civil war, and in 2004 her family’s home was destroyed in a tsunami that hit the area. In 2006, she immigrated with her family to the United States.

In between studying, competing in robotics competitions and helping her parents file their taxes, she created a free music camp for students who couldn’t afford lessons.

“No words can describe the gratitude I have for PG&E’s kindness and support towards my education. I have always been grateful for the opportunities I have received since coming to America but this is truly an unbelievable gift,” she said.

Kachchakaduge will enter her freshman year at University of California at Davis in the fall.

Student, Isiah Foster, has overcome many obstacles to become the first in his family to attend college.

Growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Oakland, he knew the road would not be easy. Losing a cousin to a senseless act of violence only made him more determined to turn his dream into a reality and to fight back against the violence around him by serving as a youth leader for six years with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere, also known as S.A.V.E. Foster is now pursuing a degree in computer science at California State University, Sacramento.

PG&E employee John Agius, scholarship winner Sethmi Kachchakaduge, along with PG&E's Bill Chang and employee Frank Salguero. (Photo by Andrea Menniti.)

Community stewards, academic standouts

PG&E’s scholarship winners were selected from more than 1,000 applicants. They were chosen based on academics and financial need, as well as their ability to overcome adversity and contributions to their communities.

Jenny Chiao’s ambition is to “help reduce negative consequences to the earth, and to facilitate positive influences for others to follow.”

As a tutor and president of her school’s Science and Engineering club, the Santa Maria student coordinated luncheons to give her classmates opportunities to network with STEM professionals and learn how to present themselves professionally.

Fresno student Lorne Briones is a self-described “technology geek with a knack and passion for creating things.”

The first in his family to go to college, Briones works four jobs to pay for school. Despite the heavy workload, he has consistently made the Dean’s List and has secured a 10-week internship at NASA.

“This scholarship is going to help me be the best student that I can be,” he said.

Priscilla Lui from San Jose grew up repairing broken electronics and unclogging sink pipes to help her dad, who despite only having one arm, had a knack for fixing things.

As the first and only female member of her high school Robotics Team, she overcame her initial self-doubt to serve as the team captain. When she noticed the lack of resources for students preparing for the SAT (college admissions test), she started a SAT Club to help low-income students.

“I am beyond grateful to PG&E for selecting me as a recipient of this scholarship. It will enable me to dedicate 100 percent of my efforts to doing well in school, rather than worrying about the cost,” Liu said.

Email Currents at Currents@pge.com

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