Going for the Gold

Presidential Honors College Scholarship attracts county’s top students

Manuela Ceballos graduated from Seminole Ridge Community High School last year with acceptance letters from the University of Florida, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Central Florida and Palm Beach State College. But with a Presidential Honors College Scholarship to PBSC, she says her decision was easy.

“The PBSC scholarship just put the icing on the cake. It’s the best thing that ever happened.”  Manuela Ceballos

Manuela Ceballos
Manuela Ceballos

“I basically didn’t have to pay anything, and I still had money left over,’’ said Ceballos, an aspiring neurosurgeon who also received a Bright Futures Florida Medallion Scholars award that covers 75 percent of her tuition. “The PBSC scholarship just put the icing on the cake. It’s the best thing that ever happened. I don’t want to come out of school with a bunch of debt.”

In a strategic move to attract some of Palm Beach County’s top students, PBSC has upped the ante for its top scholarship, offering high achieving students like Ceballos a full ride in exchange for their commitment to maintain a 3.5 grade point average and pursue the Gold Track – the most rigorous track in the Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College.

Fourteen students, including a set of identical twins, accepted the Presidential Honors College Scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year. At $4,000 per academic year, it is the highest individual scholarship awarded by PBSC, and it is granted on top of a Bright Futures Scholarship and other financial aid students may receive. Until 2013, the scholarship covered just tuition instead of tuition and books, and it was not directly tied to the Honors College.

All of the recipients said they were drawn by the Presidential Honors College Scholarship because it allows them to stay close to home for the first two years of their bachelor’s degree, save money on housing and other expenses, and enjoy a challenging learning environment with smaller class sizes.

Mark Sinclair

“It was a good idea for me to stay local and not go somewhere else,’’ said Mark Sinclair, a Wellington High School graduate who plans to pursue a career in accounting. “I pretty much had my mind made up that I would stay home for the first two years. The scholarship was part of it. Definitely being able to graduate with honors and put that on my résumé looks great. I like taking harder classes.”

“I didn’t have to pay anything at all. It’s great because I’m in the Honors College,’’ said Hailey Lord, who along with her twin sister, Hannah, graduated from Wellington High School and earned the scholarship. Like their parents, they plan to open their own martial arts studio.

As college costs rise and requirements and competition stiffen for Bright Futures, the state’s lottery-funded scholarship, and other scholarships, some students choose to stay closer to home and pocket the savings to use later for their upper division coursework or graduate school.

Ceballos, whose goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and work in the field before pursuing medical school to become a neurosurgeon, said finances were a key factor in her decision. Because she already anticipates that she will need to get loans for medical school, she said she wants to avoid loan debt as much as possible now. She said she also realized that she’d be taking the same classes at PBSC that she would for the first two years at a university, and her parents encouraged her to stay focused on her ultimate goal. “They said ‘your goal is medical school, so however you reach your goal doesn’t matter as long as you reach it,’” Ceballos said.

“I am very impressed by all of the professors who really keep you engaged in the classroom.”  Craig Kerce

Marcella Montesinos, Honors College manager, said the Honors College, particularly the Gold Track, prepares students for the rigors that they will face at universities throughout the state and nation, including Ivy League schools where some of the PBSC Honors College graduates have transferred.

For the Honors Gold, students are required to complete 21 credit hours of honors work, earn at least a B in each honors class and earn at least 40 honors points, which they gain by participating in community
service and cultural events, as well as honors, leadership, scholarly and employment activities.

“They’re very proud to be part of the Honors College, but more importantly because of that they have been able to go out and market themselves and use their academic résumé not only to get into Florida schools but also into dream schools that they thought weren’t possible like Cornell or Columbia,” Montesinos said. “It’s something additional that they can add to their academic record that might help them get additional scholarships. Even if they don’t have the Presidential Honors College Scholarship,
I’ve met enough students where just being in the Honors College has helped them.”

“I love that it’s less than 15 students in each class, so it’s a lot easier to learn.”
Christopher Ferguson

Christopher Ferguson
Christopher Ferguson

Christopher Ferguson, an Atlantic High School graduate and aspiring civil engineer, said the “free education” with the Presidential Honors College Scholarship influenced his decision. He also received acceptance letters from Florida A&M University and the University of North Florida. “I don’t have to worry about room and board, tuition and all of the other expenses that come with college.” He said the opportunity to study in the Honors College also helped his decision. “I love that it’s less than 15 students in each class, so it’s a lot easier to learn.”

Craig Kerce agreed. “I am very impressed by all of the professors who really keep you engaged in the classroom,’’ said Kerce, a Forest Hill High School graduate who plans to pursue a career as a computer programmer. “They make you think outside the box.”

2014-2015 Presidential Honors Scholarship Recipients and their career aspirations:

Megan Burke
G-Star School of Arts

Manuela Ceballos
Seminole Ridge
RN and Neurosurgeon

Christopher Ferguson
Civil Engineer

Henesy Fernandez
John I. Leonard

Sydney Hetzel
Royal Palm Beach

Craig Kerce
Forest Hill
IT / Programmer

Hailey Lord

Hannah Lord

Olivia Lowrey

Alejandro Martinez
South Tech Academy

Megan McCarthy
Seminole Ridge
Nurse Practitioner

Jash Patel
Aerospace Engineer

Mark Sinclair

Oraya Vachirachaiyakarn