Lodi High School student Priyank Patel is among the 300 high school seniors in the United States named Dell Scholars by The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.
Patel, as well as Bear Creek High School's Kor Vang and May Chen of Middle College High School, will receive $20,000 to continue in higher education over the next six years. In addition to the money, they will receive technology, resources and mentoring to ensure they have the support they need to make a college degree a reality.
"I was pretty excited. I was jumping up and down because I couldn't believe it," Patel said when he got the news last week.
He has made the finals for various scholarships, including a $100,000 one, but this was the first national win. He has successfully clenched a couple of much smaller scholarships.
"This one is the break I needed," he added.
A total of $6 million in college scholarship funds will be distributed to low-income or financially underserved students who have overcome some significant obstacles to pursue their education, according to a press release.
Patel plans to attend the University of California, Los Angeles in the fall to major in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. He wants to become a cardiology surgeon or possibly go into genetic engineering.
"Ever since (I was) a little kid, I've wanted to be a doctor," he said.
He lives in Lodi with his mother, Sue, and has three adult sisters who have motivated him to do well in school.
The high school senior said he had to take on a leadership role in the household when his father, Sunny, passed away in March 2009. "He molded me and made sure values were instilled in me so I'd become a successful individual. Everything I've accomplished, I attribute to him," Patel said, adding that the loss was his personal obstacle to overcome. "That's my goal, to make him proud every day."
Patel is a member of the Lodi Youth Commission and has volunteered at Dameron Hospital, the St. Mary's Interfaith Community Services dining room and the Hindu Temple in Stockton. Additionally, he has participated in the city's Storm Drain Detectives program, was on the track team and is a member of Lodi High's Key Club.
"From what I've achieved, failure is not an option," he said.
Like Patel, most Dell Scholars are first-generation college students and are chosen because they participate in an approved college readiness program. They must maintain at least a 2.4 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale while dealing with personal responsibilities at home or in their communities.
In addition to GPA and college readiness program participation, Dell Scholars are also required to graduate from an accredited high school, demonstrate financial need and show intent to enter a bachelor's degree program at an accredited higher education institution in the fall. "This is not just one for athletics or good grades. It proves that I'm well-rounded," Patel said, adding that he feels his leadership qualities set him apart from other applicants. He will graduate No. 2 in his class next month.
At 90 percent, these students have a high college retention rate, well above the national average of 22 percent for students with the same socio-economic profile, according to the Dell Foundation.
Last year, Lodi High's Maria Yepez received the same scholarship and planned to use it to study pre-med at University of California, Santa Barbara.