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Scholarship Empowers Students to Make a Difference

May 7, 2014

Five words from one of American history’s most famous speeches inspired Dalton Rogers to contribute to society.

He was called to public service in high school when he read President John F. Kennedy’s call to action — “ask what you can do.”

Rogers also believes that challenge has led to him to seize many opportunities like the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship.

“I have been very humbled to be selected for the Strauss Scholarship because it has reinforced President Kennedy’s exhortation and the principles of my own Catholic faith to serve others with the gifts I have been given,” said Rogers, a political science junior from Porterville.

Rogers is one of two UC Merced students who received a $10,000 scholarship from the Strauss Foundation, which was established as a memorial to the late Don Strauss to fund public service projects that students will carry out during the upcoming academic year.

The other recipient is economics major Jennifer Anaya. As a senior at Merced High School, Anaya volunteered in a UC Merced tutoring program with the focus of helping students who had not passed the California High School Exit Exam. She saw how many of her peers felt they had no hope of graduating, much less ever attending college. She knew that needed to change, but it wasn’t until hearing of the Strauss Scholarship that she saw a possible solution.

She plans to use the scholarship award to implement the Inspiring Great New Ideas Toward Education (IGNITE) Project at her alma mater, where she will work with freshmen English language learners to encourage and inform them about the college eligibility and application process. The students will take part in a series of workshops, including learning A-through-G requirements, researching different colleges, filling out a sample college application and taking personality tests to help identify potential careers.

A distinctive element of the project is to include the participants’ families in key workshops to demystify the college experience and also plant the seeds of curiosity in younger siblings.

“A major goal is for students and their families to understand that the power lies in their hands to make college a true opportunity for them,” Anaya said. “I hope to help English language learners at Merced High School believe in themselves and their ability to succeed academically.”

Rogers and students in the Law Students for Restorative Justice club will work to redirect the lives of troubled youth within Merced County in collaboration with the Charles J. Ogletree Youth Court Restorative Justice Program, an organization that serves as an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system by providing constructive sentencing and rehabilitation for first-time youth offenders.

“The financial support from the Strauss Foundation will make it possible for me and my colleagues to start something that will have a positive long-term impact in changing the lives of our county’s most troubled youth,” Rogers said. “We hope to help change the direction of troubled teens’ lives for decades to come.”

Like Anaya and Rogers, Strauss demonstrated a life-long commitment to public service and education. He served 10 years on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District Board and 12 years on the Newport Beach City Council, including one as mayor. He also founded summer internships in Washington, D.C., and endowed scholarships for college students.

Strauss’ widow, Dorothy M.R. Strauss, established the foundation as a “tribute to the vision, ideals and leadership of her husband.”

The foundation awards $10,000 scholarships to as many as 15 California college juniors annually. Rogers and Anaya are part of the foundation’s 18th group of recipients.