On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica announced four winners of a new science scholarship named after Franklin Chang, the country’s beloved astronaut. The Franklin Chang scholars were named at a ceremony at the National Biodiversity Institute.
Bryan Badilla, from the Colegio Científico de Cartago, Katherine Fernández, from the Colegio Científico de San Ramón, John Junier Thomas, from the Colegio Científico de Limón and Génesis Soto, from the Colegio Científico de Alajuela will have costs paid for up to a year at a U.S. university.
In awarding the scholarships, the embassy reviewed the students’ academic achievements, leadership qualities and English-language skills.
“I feel great, I have never traveled to another place, so having an experience that involves a big country like the United States is wonderful,” Badilla said.
Junier said he would “embrace [the award] with much determination.”
“The United States and Costa Rica share a commitment to education, and we both acknowledge the value of investing in education for our citizens. This shared commitment for promoting education has resulted in a rich history and strong tradition of educational exchanges between our countries,” U.S. Ambassador Anne S. Andrew said.
The U.S. Embassy organized the scholarships to help local students specializing in science at the high school level continue those studies at U.S. universities.
“We believe that international educational exchanges provide opportunities to broaden [students’] horizons and their potential,” Andrew said. “There are few people who embody this philosophy more than Franklin Chang, who went to the U.S. as a student and soared to new heights as a NASA astronaut.”
The scholarship was created with contributions from 22 U.S. companies that have operations in Costa Rica. Those companies donated $45,000 to help cover the costs of studies for one year.
For Fernández, receiving the scholarship was a dream come true. “It’s exciting. It’s a whole new experience and I am expecting the best,” she said.
Joining the ceremony via Skype, Chang said the world has changed significantly since he moved to the U.S. to study in 1968.
“Today we have the ability to be inter-connected, to live in a world much more intertwined, and many destinies are now totally connected with others,” Chang said. “It’s important to take advantage of opportunities to learn more about ourselves, to learn the language and understand the customs of other countries.”
The scholarships will be administered by AFS Costa Rica, an organization with decades of experience in educational exchanges with the U.S. and other countries.
“Not only are we changing lives with these scholarships, but we’re changing villages,” AFS Costa Rica President Guillermo Barquero said.
The ceremony also highlighted the 20th anniversary of the creation of specialized, science-focused high schools in Costa Rica. Today, nine of those high schools operate, offering free, science- and math-based curriculum to 10th and 11th graders.
Each school has an average of 50 students.
According to Kenneth Rivera, national director of the Science School network, three of the four winners hail from rural Costa Rican schools.
“Doña Ann [Andrew], what an important thing you have done. You’ve allowed us to lead a movement that stimulates youth education from rural areas of our country,” Rivera said.
The Franklin Chang Scholarship winners will depart for the U.S. later this year.