CWU News

High School Senior Says Scholarship Award is Like Winning the Lottery

When Maria Valencia of Yakima found out she won a full-ride scholarship to CWU, the Davis High School senior says it was like winning the lottery. And the timing could not have been better for her family.

Valencia is a quiet leader and a hard worker. She gives her time to her community, whether it’s volunteering as a translator at school conferences or raising money for ill and disabled children. She’s also a member of the National Honor Society and the College Success Foundation.  

So it’s no wonder Valencia was among the high-achieving students invited to put in for CWU’s merit-based Golden Ticket scholarship. With dreams of becoming a physician assistant, Valencia applied. Later that week, her family was displaced by a house fire.

It was 1:30 in the morning on April 7. “We were all asleep,” Valencia said. “We woke to a police officer banging on the windows.”

The family escaped unharmed. But the house was deemed a total loss. Most of their belongings were ruined by smoke and water. The prospect of college looked unlikely.

A week after the fire, Valencia was contacted by Matthew Cziske, CWU’s assistant director of Admissions. She was one of eight students selected for the Golden Ticket scholarship. “That’s probably the best part of my job,” Cziske said about delivering the good news.

The college deans picked Valencia based on her merit. Good grades and test scores set her up for the opportunity, but her academic rigor and involvement earned her the golden ticket.

“There’s always a little bit of pride as an institution when we have such strong candidates from our own backyard,” Cziske said.

It wasn’t until a follow-up phone call with Valencia’s high school counselor that Cziske found out she had just lost her home. “Maria was feeling very fortunate because just a week before, her house was destroyed in a fire,” Cziske said. “Now her dream can really truly become a reality in the face of her family’s financial hurdles.”

The Golden Ticket scholarship covers four years of tuition, books, housing, and a meal plan— an estimated $80,000 value.

“I was really happy,” Valencia said. “My family was really happy, too, because honestly, I thought I wasn’t going to afford college.”

Valencia will be the first in her family to attend college.

“No one in my family has a professional job,” she said. “My dad is a butcher. Mom works in an apple warehouse.”

She’s proud of her working-class background. It’s helped her develop a strong character, taught her how to work hard, and how to be a leader. Valencia plans to follow CWU’s pre-professional program on her way to becoming a physician assistant.

Her folks are proud of her academic achievement and her drive to help people. Valencia wants to set a good example for her younger sister. “I want to show her we don’t have to end up like our parents. We can do better.”

Valencia was recently acknowledged in front of her peers for her academic achievement. Andres Moreno, CWU’s assistant director of Admissions, presented her with a giant check during the first-ever College Signing Day at Davis High School.

Media contact: Barb Arnott, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-2841,

May 3, 2016