OAKS recipients show determination, diverse backgrounds

January 14, 2019 GMT

The 19th annual Rochester Community and Technical College Foundation’s adversity scholarships saw some changes this year.

The foundation renamed the Beat the Odds scholarships to Overcoming Adversity Keeping Strong — OAKS.

They also included a small packet of tissues along with the program brochures for the awards banquet Thursday night.

The reason for their inclusion became clear as the six recipients shared their stories. They each were awarded $2,500 scholarships to attend RCTC.

Each of the students described their determination to continue pursuing an education.


Rasha Al salehy, left her home country of Iraq to make a better life for her kids.

“I came here to save my kids’ future,” she told the crowd at Thursday’s scholarship banquet at the Rochester International Events Center. “When they give me this money, it’s for two generations.”

Andrea Hart, a Mayo High School student, described attending high school, working part time and also helping her mom, who has multiple sclerosis.

Carroll Harrod, talked about deferring college and entering the Navy after high school to help his mom finish nursing school.

Amber Guillen, a Winona High School student, and Differed Action for Childhood Arrival program recipient, described her life moving around as her mom battled paranoid schizophrenia. Diana Sanchez talked about how her interest in school waned when she was bullied about her weight to the point of anorexia.

“You have taken an enormous financial burden off my back,” she told the crowd as she accepted the scholarship.

Beth Leeper, a Triton High School student who survived leukemia, talked about how she hopes to become a child-life specialist to reassure children in positions similar to hers and reassure them she knows what they are going through.

Although all six had different stories, they all admitted they had doubts whether they would receive the scholarship.

Carroll, 28, and Al salehy, 38, said they were reassured when they learned non-traditional students are given full consideration. In expressions of empathy, the other four recipients said they felt maybe other people had more pressing needs than themselves.

In addition to the six $2,500 scholarships, the RCTC Foundation awarded $750 scholarships to Courtney Fletchner, of Plainview-Elgin-Millville High School; Samuel Frederickson, of Southland High School; Chanraksa Phann, RCTC student; Isabel Ramirez, of the Rochester Alternative Learning Center and Hallie White, Pine Island High School.