NEWS: Seven Local Students Win the Nation’s Top Academic Prize

Approximately 99.6% of high schools in the United States did not have more than one Gates Scholar in 2014 (the last year data is available), yet Reality Changers has helped to produce seven Gates Scholars in 2015, more than twenty U.S. states. Additionally, the program based in the neighborhood of City Heights has had 19 Gates scholars from 2012-2015.

If Reality Changers were a school, it would rank 3rd out of more than 37,000 high schools in the country.

Funded by Bill and Melinda Gates, the scholarship is one of the nation’s most prestigious awards, with only 1,000 high school seniors across the nation being selected every year. “These students have overcome tremendous odds,” says Reality Changers Founder & President Christopher Yanov, “By guaranteeing funding up to a Phd, these scholarships can be worth up to $500,000 apiece, which makes me wonder how many more students like these we can produce if we dedicate our resources to inner-city students.”

Here are some of the stories of this year’s Gates Scholars:

Stephanie Bueno, Health Sciences High School and Middle College
Plans to attend UC San Diego
At the age of 13, Stephanie’s interest in medicine turned into a passion and future career path when she began helping her mother recover from surgery. “It is my life’s dream to help others have good health so they can have a better life,” Stephanie shares. “Whether it be by removing a tree stump from someone’s abdomen or delivering a baby, I want to come back and help start someone else’s future by earning a degree and becoming a physician.”

Kirandeep Chhokar, Mission Vista High School
Plans to attend UC Irvine or UC San Diego
Kirandeep remembers working in her family’s restaurant when she was just ten years old, helping them manage the business late into the evenings. Kirandeep used the little free-time she had to intern at the Palomar Medical Center in the Orthopedic Acute Care Unit. Kirandeep hopes to pursue a degree in Pharmacy and start her own non-profit organization. She attributes her drive to succeed as a result of losing her brother to a lack of medical care. “I have never been able to sit down and accept that fact that I can’t help someone,” Kirandeep shares. “I do my best to find ways where I can help an individual. My passion has driven me out of my way to help others.”

Lesley Guarena, San Diego Early/Middle College
Plans to attend UC San Diego
As a young child, Lesley was forced to grow up in and around hospitals due to her mother’s lupus and father’s chronic back problems. She herself was diagnosed with a preauricular sinus that required three surgeries and countless visits to the hospital. Lesley says that these health issues only enabled her to have a clearer vision of her future career path in neuroscience. She hopes to “someday not only be a scientist, but learn things about the brain no one has before. I want to research how the brain’s anatomy relates to emotions and learn about what separates our mind from the brain.”

Darian Martos, Junipero Serra High School
Plans to attend Stanford University
Darian combined his love for math and service throughout his high school career by tutoring and helping others discover new concepts and forms of problem solving. “My goal is to break down the world of analysis – to discover the theorems and headaches of understanding infinity – and to apply this knowledge to other fields such as economics,” Darian states. “With this appreciation I hold for math and its energetic depth, I will harness its energy and transfer my explorations onto others as a teacher or professor.”

The other Gates Millennium Scholarship Recipients are:

Tania Barajas, Point Loma High School
Plans to attend UC Berkeley

Frida Durazo, San Diego Metro Career and Tech
Plans to attend UC San Diego or San Diego State

Hiwet Weldeselase, Preuss School UCSD
Plans to attend Pitzer College


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