After she received the news at school on April 20, Leslye Quintanilla couldn't wait until she got home to share it with her parents.
The Truman High School senior had been selected as one of 300 recipients nationwide of the Gates Scholarship, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to benefit minority students. Recipients must be eligible for the Pell Grant and have a weighted grade-point average of at least 3.3. They have to have demonstrated leadership and personal-success skills.
The scholarship covers her the full cost of tuition and fees for five years after other scholarships and expected home contributions are applied.
“I was at school when I found out,” Quintanilla said. “I was really nervous throughout the whole day.”
Ultimately, she decided to call her parents rather than wait until she got home. She said she's thankful because of the sacrifices her parents have made for her education.
“Being able to pay them back in a way and to not have to worry about the financial aspect of college is amazing,” she said.
Quintanilla said she had planned to attend the University of Kansas based on a good financial package she had been offered, but now she'll be going to Washington University in St. Louis with plans to major in international relations.
“Wash U was always my first choice,” said Quintanilla, who hopes to become an immigration lawyer.
Semifinalists had been named in November – including Quintanilla's classmate Lorinda Ruz – and Gates Foundation personnel conducted 600 interviews in March.
“They asked about my future plans, the community I grew up in and how that's helped me develop me as an individual,” she said. “They asked about my extracurriculars. Some of the questions are based on our different essays.”
At Truman, Quintanilla has been involved in speech and debate, the National Honor Society, the National French Honor Society, and Civic and Social Engagement (CASE). She also started a young peer mentoring program called “Girl Talk,” in which she and other some schoolmates met with middle-school students to discuss adolescent and school issues.
Besides that, she said she's enjoyed the French Honor Society – “I like learning about different cultures,” she said – and said her speech and debate experience proved helpful during the scholarship interview. Her coach there has been a mentor, she added.
“Chris Adams (Truman’s speech and debate coach), she's the one that encouraged me throughout the whole process,” Quintanilla said.
The Truman senior has two siblings in elementary school, and while they might have some understanding of their older sister's prestigious honor, Quintanilla said they're not thrilled about what it means for next fall.
“They're a bit upset I'll be going away to college,” she said.