Supporting success: Scholarships and understanding our stories

This year, January 15th is the deadline for the national Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship fund. Hopefully, community members have been telling their friends and family who have high-school seniors and even children who are already in college about this wonderful program. It would be even better if people are actively taking a step to help those students to fill out the application forms at https://secure.apiasf.org.

For almost ten years, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund has strived to make a difference in communities by "mobilizing resources to create opportunities for students to access, complete, and succeed after post-secondary education."  

They see that making scholarships available to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans is a step to develop future leaders who will excel in their careers. It's a way to create role models in our communities, people who will help to create a vibrant America. I think Lao American students and families should be a part of that journey, but how often are we seeing each other taking the time to help our youth fill out those applications? 

Applying for college can be a daunting task for anyone, and doing what we can to reduce barriers such as tuition and book costs is important. Encouraging our students to apply for scholarship programs isn't just an investment in them, but an investment in our families and our communities as a whole.

A key part of almost every scholarship application is an essay that asks the students to talk about their goals and themselves. To improve their odds of successfully applying, families need to talk with their children to help them understand who they are, what they really want out of their lives, and where they have come from.

We hear it so often, "Don't forget your culture." Or "Remember your heritage." That starts at home and being able to help our children put our stories into words. You don't have to be Garrison Keillor or F. Scott Fitzgerald in scholarship essays. But if you can't fill out even a single page about who you are, what you want to do in college, and what has been the journey of your family, most students are going to struggle, not just in the scholarship application process, but in school.   

For Lao Americans, so far less than 13% of us successfully graduated college. Few of those who have have gone on to higher education such as master degrees or doctorates. We need to change those figures, and that starts by being proactive with our youth and doing more than just telling them 'Study hard. Get good grades.' There's more to it than that. 

Over 58% of all of the APIASF scholarship recipients are the first in their families to attend college.  The scholarships are a way to celebrate the journeys of our students, giving them a good start, not just in terms of money, but in connections and validation that will open many doors for them that might otherwise remain closed.

I hope that many of our future college students will take a look at the Gates Millenium Scholars Program whose deadline is January 16th.  This program selects 1,000 talented students each year to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice. I believe many Lao American students would be good candidates for this program, but the only way to find out is for them to apply.

Another scholarship I hope people know about is the Distinguished Raven FAC Memorial Scholarship. Every February 28th is the deadline for a scholarship from the Ravens Forward Air Controllers who served in Laos during the Vietnam War.

As they point out, it's "an award presented annually to a qualifying descendent of a Lao or Lao-Hmong individual who served in the Royal Laotian Military or Hmong forces in defense of the Kingdom of Laos between 1960 and 1975."  The scholarship application is relatively easy to fill out, requiring just two letters of recommendation and one 500-word or less essay describing the students goals. The application can be found at http://www.ravens.org/scholar/scholarship.htmThe award is presented in memory of those Ravens forward controllers "who served and sacrificed that others may be free and prosper."

Later this year, I hope our students who are looking at graduate school consider the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. This is another outstanding opportunity that many could benefit from to reduce college costs, but to also take first steps to build professional contacts and personal networks that last a lifetime.

Why does this matter?

If we don't encourage and personally engage with an ideal of an educated Lao American community, we reduce our overall intellectual capital. We reduce our community's economic and social opportunities. We shortchange our future.

That translates into fewer Lao American businesses and fewer Lao American institutions such as Wat Lao and charitable organizations. We see reduced innovation and fewer people emerging with the skills to apply for high-paying jobs that could help them take care of their families. We'll instead have more families struggling to navigate increasingly complicated systems such as health care, education and immigration, straining the system. 

If we value education, and want our children to succeed in school, we can't just give lip service to the idea. We need to take the time out to teach ourselves how to help our children, our nieces and nephews, and our neighbors and friends to access scholarships and other programs designed to help them forward.  If we don't, we risk keeping many families trapped in multigenerational cycles of poverty. 

We can and must do more. A measure of a successful community is our ability to give and to help others. When we're truly successful, we help others to give back for generations ahead.