Her selection as a Gates Scholar is the culmination of a whirlwind college-admissions season for Ramirez-Gijon, who in 2019 was chosen as one of ten students included in the inaugural cohort of Mission Scholars, a new Santa Barbara program dedicated to helping high-achieving, low-income students maximize their college admissions potential.
“The Gates Scholarship received more than 36,500 applicants for 300 slots,” said Mission Scholars’ Executive Director Cassie Lancaster, who persuaded Ramirez-Gijon to apply for the Gates Scholarship last fall. “This is a remarkable honor for Kathy, and having a Gates Scholar among our first crop of seniors is a powerful proof-of-concept for our program. It shows that when these students receive the support they need, they can move mountains.”
The Gates Scholarship’s rigorous application process takes place in three phases. After the initial review of over 36,500 applications, 2,000 semi-finalists are selected and required to write a round of essays. Later, once 600 finalists are chosen, each must submit to a personal interview.
“Kathy earned the Gates Scholarship through her years of hard work and determination,” Lancaster said. “Our role was to marshal the efforts of expert staff and volunteers who could help her highlight her own worth and potential. For instance, Daphne Tebbe from SBCC’s Writing Center helped Kathy conceptualize and finalize her essays, and Dr. Andy Gersoff, who conducts interviews for both Yale and for Cottage Hospital’s residency program, donated significant time helping Kathy prepare for her interview.”
“I’m extremely grateful for their help,” Ramirez-Gijon said. “It was very encouraging knowing that so many people believed in me and wanted me to do well. Somewhere along the way, I started believing in myself, too.”
Ramirez-Gijon said that the moment she realized she was a Gates Scholar would remain firmly etched in her memory.
“I was in the living room, and my parents were in the kitchen. I opened up an email from the Gates Scholarship and saw the word ‘congratulations,’ and I just ran into the kitchen, hopping and screaming.”
The scholarship ensures that Ramirez-Gijon will receive full funding at an accredited U.S. college of her choosing, providing up to the full cost of attendance—including tuition, room, board, books, transportation, and some personal expenses—minus any other financial aid she receives.
“Money plays an all-too-pivotal role in college admissions,” Lancaster said. “If you have access to money, you have a natural advantage throughout the process. Scholarships like this one go a long way toward leveling the field for extraordinary young people like Kathy.”
Ramirez-Gijon is planning to enroll at the University of Southern California, where she plans to major in mechanical engineering—a natural next-step for the accomplished student, who was accepted into the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy as a freshman.
“It relieves so much pressure,” Ramirez-Gijon said. “Being a Gates Scholar gives me the freedom to go to college without that guilty feeling that I’m a financial burden on my parents, who are already going through so much.”
About Mission Scholars: Mission Scholars, a program of the Santa Barbara Education Foundation, was founded in 2019 to provide comprehensive college admissions guidance to low-income, high-achieving students. Kathy Ramirez-Gijon is among Mission Scholars’ first class of students, who have received a combined $2 million in merit aid, along with acceptances to colleges including USC, Notre Dame, and UC Berkeley.