Academic Dreams Come True for These Edison Scholars

This year, 30 students will each receive $40,000 scholarships from Edison International to pursue their studies in the fields of science and math.

August 19, 2013 | By Caroline Aoyagi-Stom

Like many Americans in recent years, the economic downturn has created hardships for Jeff Wettstein, 18, and his family. During his high school years he moved five times. But because education is a high priority, his parents bought him a ’93 Ford Escort so he could drive himself and his two siblings to school 50 miles each day.

For Wettstein, words can’t express how much he appreciates the Edison International scholarship he was recently awarded. The four-year scholarship worth $40,000 will help pay for a large portion of his degree in electrical engineering and computer science at UC Berkeley.

“The rush of emotion was of incredible relief and excitement,” said Wettstein of Ventura, Calif. He found out about the scholarship during a UC Berkeley Open House when his crying mom called him on his cell phone. “In-between breaths she told me that I had received the Edison scholarship. Myself and my family are forever grateful for that day and the consideration of Edison International.”

Wettstein has loved computers since first reading “Learn C on the Mac” and has already developed eight Apple Apps with more than 200,000 downloads. He hopes to continue expanding his knowledge of computer science “to do good for the world.”

His love for science is a perfect match for the Edison Scholars Program that supports students pursuing higher education in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“At Edison International, we realize that higher education is a transformative tool that fuels the future,” said Tammy Tumbling, director of Philanthropy & Community Investment for Southern California Edison (SCE). “As an energy company, we recognize the skills needed for our future workforce and to help advance our country. As a result, we focus our educational funding on preparing students to excel in the STEM fields and to promote the inclusion of minority, low-income and under-represented students in these academic fields.”

In addition to the financial support, the Edison Scholars Program also provides company mentors to help guide the students during their college years.

Chika Okonkwo, 17, from Hawthorne, Calif., had never heard of Edison International when her high school counselor encouraged her to apply for the scholarship. She and her twin had been returning home from their AP government class when they noticed the large yellow envelope in their mailbox.

“I opened the envelope and my eyes went directly to the bolded award amount confirming that I received the scholarship,” she said. “I was ecstatic and finally entered the house informing my parents. They shouted with joy thanking God.”

Okonkwo was 13 years old when she first immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. Now five years later, she is heading to UC San Diego to pursue a career in bioengineering thanks largely to the Edison Scholars Program.

“This scholarship means more than a lot to me because I will be able to come out of college loan free,” she said. “Think about it, a 13 year old girl that emigrated from an undeveloped country and had no clue of what to expect in America is able to receive a higher education that is completely funded for.”

The Edison Scholars Program provided $2.9 million in scholarships last year so students

could pursue their higher education goals. In addition to focusing on students in the STEM fields, students must also meet financial requirements.

“We believe educated youth have the power to change their lives, their communities and the world,” Tumbling said. “As such, almost 50 percent of our funding goes toward programs such as the Edison Scholars Program that keep our youth in school and provide opportunities for post-secondary education. Since 2009, Edison International has given more than $34 million to education programs that help underserved, under-represented students excel.”

Jasmine Esparza, 18, from Bellflower, Calif., is the oldest of three girls. Ever since her siblings were born, she has helped care for them, one of them with a learning disability. In mid-August she headed to UC Berkeley to pursue a degree in engineering and start a new stage in her life.

“This Edison scholarship gives me an opportunity to be able to go to one of the best schools in the nation,” she said. “As a low income minority, I do not have the luxury to afford a good school, but this scholarship pays for a big fraction of my tuition and other living expenses.”

For Alexander Chan, there’s been little time to ponder his Edison scholarship. Since receiving the news about the award over the phone from his crying mom, he’s been working full-time as a research assistant.

In less than a month, Chan will be heading to UCLA from his hometown of Rowland Heights, Calif. There, he plans to pursue his love of science with a degree in physics.

“Sometimes I tell my friends, jokingly, that magic shows are merely illusions, and rather, the real magic in our world lies in the study of natural phenomena — physics,” said Chan, whose looking at a variety of career options including NASA engineer or oncologist.

Like most of the scholars, his only knowledge of Edison was as a utility company.

“Prior to applying for the Edison scholarship, I had only known Edison as my local electricity provider,” said Chan. “It is truly wonderful to learn about their dedication in philanthropy to their community."

The next application process for the Edison Scholars Program will begin in the fall. Interested students can go to www.scholarsapply.org/edisonscholars for more information.