Julio Ornelas, the Rising Scholar from Pico Rivera, with $140K in Scholarship Funds

Many first generation college students are told by people in their community who want them to succeed to apply to prestigious scholarships and fellowships. As first generation college students and first generation Americans, we frequently hear our mentors encourage us to apply, but we never actually do it. Due to imposter syndrome, we do not feel worthy enough to be Gates Millennium Scholars, Truman Scholars, and so much more. One amazing Pico Rivera student has pushed himself to fight imposter syndrome and has earned the honor of being a Coca-Cola Scholar and HACER Scholarship recipient. This is a distinction very few students across the country have. Julio Ornelas, an incoming University of California, Berkeley freshman and El Rancho High School graduate, has earned a total of $140,000 in scholarships.

Julio Ornelas will be entering UC Berkeley as an immunology and pathogenesis major. In high school, he decided to become a doctor because his grandmother had stage 4 cancer, and she had only a year to live. Julio spent a year caring for his grandmother and in her last year was her primary caregiver. This experience opened his eyes to the medical field because he wants to help families who have been afflicted with cancer. Julio said, “I am majoring in immunology and parthenogenesis to become an oncologist and give back the ray of hope that her treatment centers once gave me.”

Julio is an inspiration with an outstanding story of persistence and motivation. During the application process, Julio went through moments when he did not feel worthy enough to be a recipient of these scholarships. He did not feel worthy because in the years prior nobody from El Rancho High School and Pico Rivera had earned the scholarships. Also, he was conscientious that there were students across America with more extracurricular activities and outstanding grades than he had earned.

Julio had a 4.44 GPA, but he was not the class valedictorian. His grades slipped after his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Julio was part of the swim team, academic decathlon, MEChA, and was ASB President. Although he had an impressive leadership record, he was aware that some of the applicants were athletics captains or had started a non-profit. Nevertheless, Julio pushed himself to apply for these scholarships because he saw the struggles that his parents went through. Both of Julio’s parents have less than a high school education, and they are currently supporting his oldest brother’s college education. Julio’s parents are both Mexican immigrants. His mother is a stay at home mom, and his father is a truck driver. Julio did not want to be a financial burden on his family if he decided to attend a University of California campus or a private university.

Julio’s advice for students applying for scholarships is “Ponte las pilas because you get out what you put in.” He also said, “Do not limit yourself to the scholarships your school tells you about — look for other resources.”

Julio exemplifies how tenacity and taking advantage of opportunities can take you far in life. He had a mentor from the ‘Be A Leader’ program at El Rancho High School, Michelle Sandoval. Michelle constantly pushed and encouraged Julio to keep applying for scholarships and to not doubt his abilities. He was tenacious because he was determined to get these scholarships after he applied to them. Julio was eager to make sure that his parents did not pay out of pocket for his education. He wanted to attend UC Berkeley debt free. I am truly amazed and inspired by Julio’s desire to succeed. Julio is one of many students from Pico Rivera, California who are on the verge of changing the world.

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Biane Arias

Biane Arias

Biane Arias is a first-generation student at the University of California-Riverside. Biane is extremely proud to be from Pico Rivera, California. She is a Political Science with an emphasis in Public Service major. Biane credits the amazing teachers and staff of the El Rancho Unified School District for helping her succeed and realize her passion for politics. Biane is an aspiring Public Servant, and Attorney. At UCR, Biane works at Undergraduate Admissions, and she previously worked at EAOP and the Moreno Valley Unified School District. Currently, Biane is a part of IGNITE's Southern California College Council.

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