by Bob Romero
May is the month at the end of the school year in which students receive awards for their successes in school and in athletics. I call the month of May, the “Banquet Month”, as many banquets are held to honor their successes. There are also graduations at various levels, and scholarships are given to individuals who have worked hard to continue on their path to a promising career. While the celebrations are on hold for this year, nothing can erase their accomplishments, and scholarships will still be awarded.
Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was given the special honor by my company, to represent them on the American Geological Institute’s (AGI) Minority Scholarship Committee. There were about a dozen or so members, and they were from various corporations, government agencies, and universities and colleges across the USA. The students that applied, were from the underrepresented minorities which were African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Regardless of the reason why they were underrepresented, the American Geological Institute recognized that these groups needed to participate in fields like geology, meteorology, and environmental science in order to address the growing shortage of earth scientists. AGI raised money from corporations, government agencies, and academia for this purpose. A huge grant from the National Science Foundation later on, allowed us to give larger awards and to more students.
The committee usually met in Washington, D.C. once a year, to grade the applications, and to award the applicants according to their scores. The applicants were high school seniors, undergraduate students, and graduate students. We were given criteria for the grading which was comprised of their Grade Point Average (GPA), letters of recommendations from their professors and teachers, extracurricular activities, community volunteer activities, and a personal or mission statement. It was very inspirational to read their mission statements and letters of recommendation as they moved forward to make a positive impact on society. Another part of the program was for each committee member to mentor several students who had earned a scholarship. Participating in this mentoring program really lifted my spirits. I thought that I would share some examples.
Russell was a Native American attending Colorado School of Mines and working on his PhD in Geological Engineering. When he was a freshman at the school, he struggled with his math and science courses, as the tribal schools where he attended, had not fully prepared him for the tough curriculum at Mines. He worked hard and raised his GPA to the point where it was a 4.0 in graduate school. He got a top award from us, and when I contacted him to see how he was doing, I said to him “Gee, Russell, you’re doing so well, maybe you should mentor me”! Russell responded, “On no, the biggest room in my house, is the room for improvement”. His humility truly inspired me.
Linda was a young Latina majoring in Geology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She carried a 4.0 GPA throughout college, and one day after her final exam as a senior, she called me and was very excited that she had got the top score of her class on her final exam. She was also a little disturbed because one of the students told her that she didn’t have to worry, because she was a woman and a minority. I told her to go back and tell him that she didn’t have to worry because she got the highest score in the class. He was using her gender and ethnicity as a copout for his own shortcomings. As a woman and as a minority, she has had to overcome obstacles that he has had no idea what they were about. I told her “You got the top score, and nobody, and I mean nobody, can take that away from you”. After that, I sensed that she had erased all doubt in her abilities.
Andrew was from the San Luis valley and was a junior at Adams State College, which is my alma mater. I thought that there would be no problem for Andrew to get a scholarship, as he had a 3.4 GPA was doing well as a geology major at the school. Our minimum requirement was a 3.0. However, a couple of the committee members, who were recruiters for major oil companies, rejected him because his GPA wasn’t high enough for them, and because of the school that he was attending. When I mentioned that it was my alma mater, they didn’t care, as they were only concerned about students with very high GPA’s from big schools. I think that their intent was to hire them when they graduated, in order to fill their quota for their companies. Then for some reason, they both got up and went to the restroom. While they were gone, a colleague friend of mine from another oil company, brought up an African American woman whom they had also rejected. This student had a very promising future until she had to drop out of school, because she was pregnant. A couple of years later, she was back in school and working hard to fulfill her dream. My colleague stated that if we encouraged her with the minimum award, it would give her the encouragement to continue on. I stated that I agreed with her, and that we should do the same for Andrew. The rest of the committee agreed. When the gentlemen returned and asked what happened while they were gone, we told them that we had just gave away a thousand dollars.
When I contacted Andrew to see how he was doing, he was very soft-spoken and was very shy. I mentioned to him that if he could raise his GPA, I might be able to make a case for him to get more money. He did that, and he was awarded a better scholarship. When I contacted him again, I noticed a big change in him. He was much more confident and outgoing. I happened to talk to one of his professors, and the professor told me that Andrew had presented a paper on the migration of sands at the Great Sand Dunes National Park at a conference. After that, his confidence in himself just took off. He then applied for graduate school at the University of Alabama. The two individuals that had rejected Andrew in the beginning, now expressed doubt that he would be able to succeed with such a major shift in culture. But they had no choice but to agree to award him a fair scholarship. Not only did Andrew adjust to his new surroundings, he flourished. His GPA at Alabama was a 4.0 and he was awarded the top TA (Teachers Assistant) award in the department. He got the maximum award from us, and now those two members were all over themselves to hire Andrew when he graduated. He respectfully declined and took a job as a forest ranger at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. There, he was not only able to continue his work on the sand dunes, but he also worked with the youth in the San Luis Valley. I was so proud of him, not only for his accomplishments, but also for his character.
I was not able to stay on the committee when I left my company, as I no longer worked in an earth science field. However, when my dad passed away, my family started a scholarship in his name at Trinidad State Junior College where he worked. In the 1990’s, the TSJC Education Foundation got a matching National Education Association grant to supplement the scholarships that the college offers each year. For the last 20 to 25 years, the foundation has sent me a list of applications for me to grade and rank. I modified the grading scale that was used by AGI, to what I thought would be fair for the students, like having their GPA account for 40 per cent of the grade instead of 60 per cent, and a total perfect score would add up to exactly 100. When the foundation committee heard about the grading criteria that I was using, they adopted it as the standard criteria to be used for all of the scholarships.
So now I am able to continue reading about the goals and aspirations of bright young men and women in both academic and vocational fields. In the letters of recommendation, the teachers describe the positive impact that the students are having at school and in the community like helping other students and helping feed the homeless. I noticed that this year in particular, many young men and women are pursuing careers in nursing with the object of transferring to a four-year school after two years at TSJC. It’s truly uplifting to see how they are dedicating their careers to the service of their fellow human beings. These students are our future leaders, and this positive energy makes me feel good about the future of this world.
Bob Romero has been a diligent student of esoteric spiritual subjects and metaphysics for many years, with a life-long quest for answers. He has submitted new and original articles that focus on life lessons and experiences he wishes to share with our readers and the world.