Diaspora News

A different kind of scholarship

Grace Iriarte, one of the students who will get support from the Million Dollar Scholars program, reads her essay. Photo © Lori Lyn C. Lirio

A DIFFERENT kind of scholarship for deserving students is gaining ground in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands following the success of its pilot program in one of the public high schools in Saipan.

This was learned Wednesday shortly after Kagman High School principal Leila Staffler thanked the members of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce (SCC) for the financial support it extended to the Million Dollar Scholar (MDS) program.

In a presentation before the members of the SCC, Staffler said they have wasted zero fund donated to them. She added that 100 percent of the contributions went to support students in terms of providing transportation, application fees and other needs.

Staffler reported that about $25,000 went to students’ transportation – plane tickets – while about $14,000 went to scholarship supports and other needs of the students. She also said that the program spent over $4,000 for applications fees.

She added the Million Dollar Scholars also helped the students write and apply for scholarships and assist them make the best financial choices.

Moreover, Staffler reported to the SCC that the 23 students that the program supported last year is still in school and expressed their intention to continue to attend school in second year.

“It’s a good indicator of our success,” Staffler commented.

Staffler also said that the MDS program is now expanding to all other school. She said KHS teacher Gerard van Gils has been setting and identifying five high schools in CNMI, including Tinian and Rota, to scale up the program.

At the same time, Staffler went on to say that they have been talking to CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres about MDS and he is highly supportive of the idea.

“With the governor’s help, we are trying to come up with a type of scholarship program specifically for helping with the transportation need of students for travelling abroad for college because that really is the missing link for students who are trying to get to those scholarships and other opportunities off island,” she said.

The money that the Million Dollar Scholars is raising is to get the students to college. The program does not have the ability to provide financial support students for four years, she said.

“We can give four years of emotional support through our communications. We give them best advice when they need it to overcome any hurdles that they experience while they are in college. We give them the best advice that we can on how to maintain their scholarship so they can stay on track,” she said.

The program, which was initiated by the KHS with the goal to help students prepare for higher, last year has helped 23 KHS graduating students go to college.

According to KHS teacher Gerard van Gils, the MDS program is unique for it is not meant to support the students in college. The program is aimed to get a student start collegiate education. He stressed that it raise funds not to help the students pay tuition, housing or school expenses.

“Our goal is to help them apply for help and to be academically ready for college. We do fund raise to pay for plane tickets and application fees, which comes to about $1,500 per student,” Gils explained.

He also revealed that 26 students will benefit from MDS program this year.

One of those who will benefit from te MDS program next year is Fil-Am student Grace Iriarte.

Iriarte, who will be leaving for Utah for college, read her essay before SCC members which is about her family and how immigration laws tore it apart.

Iriarte said she and her sister were left in the care of an aunt, whom she called her mother, and her Chamorro husband.

“My [biological] mother was a guest worker in the Commonwealth of the NMI and was forced to leave America a long time ago,” Iriarte explained.

She and her sister are U.S. citizens by birth, so they did not fit in the Philippines just like her mother did not fit in Saipan.

“Before she left for her home islands, she left us here in Saipan with our new mom and her Chamorro husband who applied for the permanent positions of husband and father. He accepted us warmly and our family was formed: patchwork over missing pieces, like fresh tin covering rotted holes in the roof,” she thoughtfully said in her essay.

Lori Lyn Lirio
Lori Lyn C. Lirio is a veteran newshen having worked for the People's Journal Tonight for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications degree from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. She currently writes for the Marianas Variety, Saipan's number one community paper. .

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