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WASHINGTON state Opportunity Scholarship students are in a unique position to help broaden and deepen the program’s impact.

These students come from low- and middle-income families and are selected to receive scholarships to help them prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering, math and health-care studies. They understand the challenges faced by bright, hardworking students in underrepresented groups.

Scholars told their stories during a useful feedback session Wednesday at the University of Washington. The College Success Foundation, which administers the scholarship, brought together students in the program and members of the scholarship program’s board, including its chair, Brad Smith, executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, and board member Mack Hogans, a former senior vice president of Weyerhaeuser.

The result was critical insight.

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Students with little experience in higher education are more likely to be influenced by their peers, said Wilder Garcia, a freshman at South Seattle Community College and scholarship recipient. Deploying scholarship recipients to speak to high schools would resonate.

“ I feel like my peers will listen to me,” Garcia said.

Sobia Sheikh, a UW math major, suggested stronger efforts to educate middle- and high-school students on the academic requirements for science, technology, engineering, math or health-care majors as a way to prepare them for the rigors of college.

Lorelei Clark, a Seattle Central Community College student headed to Washington State University to study veterinarian science, was one of several students calling for internships to better connect STEM studies with real careers.

The suggestions are doable and could bolster the scholarship fund created by the Legislature and secured with a $50 million combined commitment from Microsoft and Boeing.

The program is ramping up, awarding nearly 800 new scholarships this week. That is on top of 3,000 handed out last year. The award amounts have also been increased from $1,000 to $5,000 for juniors and seniors, a compassionate response to academic workloads that do not often leave time for outside jobs.

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