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At 17 years old, Marilu Duque has the world at her feet. That's because she has the rest of her college education fully paid for, so now all she has to do is focus on the courses for her career path.
The daughter of Dominican and Cuban parents, the Dominican/Cuban-American Marilu is one of this year's coveted Gates Millennium Scholarship winners, as well as a recipient of the Buick Achievers Scholarship. Between the two scholarships, Marilu's tuition is fully covered — plus she'll receive up to an additional $25,000 in scholarship money every year for four years to cover costs associated with pursing higher education.
The scholarships are a blessing for her family, which was left financially challenged after the economic downturn. Her mother, Myrah, says that without a scholarship, they weren't certain if Marilu would have the opportunity to attend an out-of-state college, which was her dream.
"These scholarships have given our family peace of mind knowing that she will accomplish her dream and attend a prestigious college specializing in her major," says Myrah.
Marilu, who will attend New York University this fall, thinks it's her passion for engineering that helped her catch the eye of the scholarship committees and convince them that she deserved these scholarships. She knew that scholarship foundations like these look for passion and enthusiasm over test scores and GPA, though she certainly had those as well. So for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, she integrated computer science and graphic design into all of her essays. She also wrote about a teacher who had a lasting impact on her, as well as the programs she's participated in and how each one has prepared her for becoming an engineer. She encourages other high schoolers to do the same.
"If you are truly passionate about something, then it will show through your writing," Marilu says.
So what exactly does Marilu love most? "Computer science/engineering and graphic design are definitely the subjects I am most passionate about," says Marilu. "Coding is about contributing to the community, working on large open-source projects, and solving social problems in new and innovative ways."
Because she knows that she wants to work with coding and business, Marilu has begun laying the foundation by interning with startup companies like DormItUp.Com, and working as the tech/social media guru for Camp Sci Girl. She says that her experiences have nurtured her love for computer science and have instilled in her a need to reach further and learn more.
Marilu's resume reflects her active lifestyle and dedication to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). From graphic design to Science Olympiad, her interests and projects are centered around technology and engineering. You can read her impressive resume for yourself if you visit her blog, STEMLatina.com.
"I've always known that college was in my future," says Marilu, "but I never fully grasped the idea until I was placed into the AVID program at my middle school in eighth grade." (AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination). AVID's mission is to "close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society." Marilu says the program's teacher pushed her and other students to do better and dream big.
Marilu also credits her parents for being nothing but supportive and active in her education.
"Whenever I had an award ceremony or program I had to go to, they never said 'no' or 'sorry, I'm busy'," she says. "They always put my career before theirs."
Marilu's mom, Myrah Falco Duque, who runs the blog Coupon Mamacita, says her daughter has many qualities that have helped her be successful. At the top of the list is determination.
"She was determined to succeed from the beginning of her second semester as a freshman," Myrah says. "She took charge of the purpose, her dream to attend college for free, and NEVER gave up despite criticism and many obstacles at school. She took negative feedback and turned it into a positive, making her the stronger person she is today."
When asked what advice she would you give other high schoolers who are thinking about applying for these or other scholarships, Marilu says to stop thinking and just do it.
"As my school counselors always say, 'All you can do is put your name in the hat.'"
She cautions students not to pin all of their hopes on just one scholarship and reminds them that no scholarship is guaranteed. She also encourages other students to reach out to her via her website STEMLatina.com for monthly scholarship postings.
Marilu is most excited about her future. "A future full of never-ending adventure, whether that's through traveling or learning new things in tech," she says. "I definitely want to continue to do community outreach, and even go global and encourage others to join the STEM fields."