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Two Ramona High graduates awarded $1,000 ‘Badge of Honor’ scholarships

Two Ramona graduates are receiving $1,000 scholarships that not only recognize their achievements, but also their parents’ service during the pandemic.

San Diego-based Wheelhouse Credit Union, formerly known as San Diego Metropolitan Credit Union, is awarding the “Badge of Honor” scholarships to Ramona High School 2022 graduates Alaina Austin and Ember Yanez along with three other San Diego-area students.

The awards ceremony was held June 30 at Wheelhouse Credit Union’s Downtown San Diego branch. President and CEO Lisa Paul-Hill addressed the recipients, their families, mentors and Wheelhouse staff and honored them with a check presentation, said Wheelhouse spokesperson Steven Peterson. The students had an opportunity to talk about the colleges they plan to attend and their future career plans, he said.

The students were judged on their academic achievement, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities. A key component of the application was an essay the students wrote about a family member who is an active member of law enforcement, health care services, or works in fire protection or emergency medical technician in San Diego County.

“The primary reason for awarding the scholarships is to offer some relief and essentially say thank you for the work they (parent/grandparent/legal guardian) did during the pandemic by supporting their children,” Peterson said. “The $1,000 are given directly to the recipients and are earmarked for college expenses. They can spend it any way they want on college expenses.”

Alaina, 17, a lifelong Ramona resident, said she will likely spend her scholarship money on a laptop computer she can used for her engineering studies at Cal Poly Pomona starting this fall.

Alaina chose civil engineering as her major based on her experiences in the Project Lead the Way program at Ramona High. During the past four years she worked on several Project Lead the Way lessons, which included creating sensory sensitivity jackets that help people with autism manage their anxiety and calm down during an episode; making balsa wood airplanes; and designing model rockets that she launched with engines. Another project involved building, coding and using a robot with a claw machine attached to it.

“I really like knowing how things work,” Alaina said. “I like using design software and I like designing things, which is why I chose engineering. I like math, too.”

Ramona High graduate Alaina Austin plans to study civil engineering at Cal Poly Pomona.

(Courtesy Wheelhouse Credit Union)

Alaina’s mom, Valerie Austin, found out about the Badge of Honor scholarship through Wheelhouse Credit Union. She thought it would be a good fit since she has been an ICU nurse for 21 years, including 11 years at UCSD. Alaina said her mom de ella dealt with very sick COVID patients during the pandemic.

“I wrote about COVID and some of her difficulties with losing patients and caring for them,” Alaina said about her scholarship application essay. “I’m very proud of her. She is a very strong woman.”

Alaina also gives credit to her dad, Bill Austin, a former X-ray technician. He worked in radiology at Scripps Clinic in Rancho Bernardo for nearly 30 years until he died unexpectedly over a year ago.

“I’m just really proud of both of them and I’m happy that I got this scholarship because of them,” Alaina said. “It will help a lot for college.”

The Austin family celebrates their “Badge of Honor” scholarship.  From left, Valerie Austin, Lisa Paul-Hill and Alaina Austin.

The Austin family celebrates their “Badge of Honor” scholarship. From left, mom Valerie Austin, Wheelhouse Credit Union President and CEO Lisa Paul-Hill, and Alaina Austin.

(Courtesy Alaina Austin)

Alaina also received a $1,000 Ford scholarship through Ford Motor Co. in May.

Ember, also 17 and a lifelong Ramona resident, was Ramona High’s 2022 salutatorian. She said she plans to use her scholarship funds for her studies at Pomona College, a private liberal arts school in Claremont.

“It’s a really great school academically with a 7 percent acceptance rate,” said Ember, adding that she chose to attend Pomona College partly because it’s a small campus. “I like the feel of a small classroom and being able to get to know my teachers and other students as opposed to being on a large campus.”

The college is also awarding Ember $68,000 in scholarships per academic year.

Additionally, Ember has a half-dozen other scholarships from various sources. She said her annual expenses would have been about $75,000 without the combined scholarships, but having them, she will only spend about $2,000 per year.

“I was super worried I wouldn’t get enough scholarships for college,” Ember said. “I ended up applying for a lot, as many as I could find. I want to graduate with no debt for my undergraduate studies. I will probably go to medical school after graduating from Pomona College.”

Ramona High graduate Ember Yanez plans to study cognitive science at Pomona College.

Ramona High graduate Ember Yanez plans to study cognitive science at Pomona College.

(Courtesy Ember Yanez)

Ember plans to major in cognitive science because she likes science and aims to work in the field of psychiatry. She said she wants to work in a community that is medically underserved and to make medicine more accessible for people who need it.

Ember said her mom, Chantel Yanez, was on a mailing list for local scholarships and received an email notice from Wheelhouse Credit Union about the Badge of Honor scholarships. They thought Ember would qualify because her dad, Daniel Yanez, is a firefighter and emergency medical technician. He has been a firefighter for 17 years and works for the US Forest Service.

In her essay, Ember shared how proud she is of her dad for all the sacrifices he’s made. One challenge has been traveling to help fight fires where there were shortages of firefighters and EMTs, she said.

“It’s a hardship for him to be away from home,” she said. “I’m really proud of all the work he’s doing and that he’s continued to do it despite the pandemic.”

Ember said his career as a firefighter influenced her decision to study medicine. When she was a child, Ember said she often played with her dad’s stethoscopes and other medical equipment, pretending that she was a doctor.

She expressed gratitude that Wheelhouse is showing appreciation for her dad’s hard work.

Ember also said the Wheelhouse scholarship will help her pay for her college education on her own.

“It gives me the opportunity to be able to continue my education,” she said.

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