Palo Alto group awards 25 college scholarships

'Pursuit of Excellence' grants aimed at needy students at four-year colleges

Four recent graduates of Gunn and Palo Alto high schools are among this year's recipients in a scholarship program begun by a Palo Alto couple nearly 30 years ago.

The "Pursuit of Excellence" scholarship aims to help financially needy students from Peninsula high schools determined to earn a four-year college degree. Preference is given to students who have worked during high school, with renewal amounts based on a student's academic performance and need.

The scholarship has grown since it was launched in 1985 with $2,000 from Jerry and Dick Smallwood. Decades ago Dick Smallwood attended MIT on a full scholarship and Jerry Smallwood said Dick's graduation, in 1957, would have been difficult or impossible without the help.

The Smallwoods began raising scholarship funds among their friends, growing the program to about 175 donors who annually contribute amounts typically ranging from $25 to $10,000.

This year's 25 recipients join more than 350 other college students who have received help from Pursuit of Excellence over the years in annual amounts ranging from $500 to $7,000.

Among the new recipients is Avery Sredanovich, who maintained a 4.0 GPA at Gunn and is headed to the University of California at Berkeley. Sredanovich, who has a summer job at Spot A Pizza Place, sang in the Gunn Concert Choir and coached volleyball at Terman Middle School, according to her profile provided by Pursuit of Excellence.

Gunn graduates Francisco "Paco" Covarrubias and Sally Yilma also are among this year's recipients. Covarrubias, a Gunn soccer player who also participated in a program to help people with technology, plans to study psychology at San Diego State University. Yilma, who arrived in the United States from Ethiopia at the age of 10 and was involved in volleyball coaching and Gunn's diversity committee, will attend the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Other recipients this year are:

From Palo Alto High School: Dalia Lopez, who is heading for California State University at Dominguez Hills.

From Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy: Monica Valdivias, heading to U.C. Berkeley.

From Carlmont High School: Alondra Jaime, heading to U.C. Santa Cruz, Katherine Necochea Tinco, heading to U.C. Berkeley, and Rosa Vargas, heading to U.C. Santa Cruz.

From East Palo Alto Academy High School: Edgar Arroyo, California State University at Sonoma; Juan Gabriel, the University of San Francisco; and Lucia Gonzalez, Loyola Marymount University.

From Los Altos High School: Estefani Gomez Pacheco, California State University at Sacramento; Arely Leon and Oscar Ramirez, both U.C. Merced; and Nisha Sharma, U.C. Santa Cruz.

From Menlo-Atherton High School: Zoe McKenna, Santa Barbara City College, and Christopher Sandoval, U.C. Santa Cruz.

From Sequoia High School: Paul Santiago Chavez, U.C. Merced; Rogelio Mata, U.C. Davis; and Carla Paredes, U.C. Riverside.

From Summit Preparatory High School: Estefania Bautista, U.C. Santa Cruz; and Valeria Sandoval, U.C. Berkeley.

From Woodside High School: Tania Cruz, U.C. Davis; and Zulema Garibo Gonzalez and Jordan Gomez, both U.C. Santa Barbara.

Chris Kenrick


Like this comment
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 28, 2014 at 10:54 am

Pursuit of Excellence is an outstanding example of how a modest idea can morph into a very significant impact for the many students who have benefitted from their scholarships. This low overhead group is a very worthy place to make your charitable contributions. Thank you, Dick & Jerry Smallwood!

Like this comment
Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 28, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Kudos to the Smallwood family for making such a big difference in so many lives. Many years ago, I was a child raised in Palo Alto in a single parent family who also worked while in high school. I would have never made it thru college without financial help, including from a handful of generous local community members. Today, the need is greater than ever. What a wonderful example to show us the way. And what a powerful, hopeful message to financially-challenged, hard working local students, who now have an additional reason to hope for something more than just encouragement when they head off to college. This is the type of thing that makes a community stronger and better.

2 people like this
Posted by Janeen Phillips
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

Congrats everyone on the list and thank you donors. Scholarships help out so much.

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