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Hawaii foundation sees applicant interest dip for STEM-related scholarships

Updated: 
May 16, 2017 - 10:42am

KAILUA-KONA — It isn’t often a scholarship fund, or anyone for that matter, struggles to give away free money. But that’s exactly what’s happening this year with one Hawaii-based organization.

For more than 20 years, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association Hawaii Educational Foundation has been helping students realize their academic goals. This year, the nonprofit foundation hopes to disburse more than $100,000 stockpiled in its coffers to college students exploring majors under the umbrella of STEM — science, technology engineering, math or cyber coursework.

The AFCEA fund plans to award more than 30 scholarships ranging from $3,000-$5,000 in value to any qualified applicant from high school seniors to graduate students.

The problem is that to date, only three students have applied, a lower total at this point in the process than the organization’s Scholarship Chairman Matthew Darnell said he’s ever seen.

“I think many students may not be aware of how easy it is to apply for our scholarships and instead focus on searching out college loans to pay for their education without thinking through the challenges of repaying those loans with interest after graduation,” Darnell said in a press release.

Typically, the pool of applicants is about 20 people by mid-May, rising as high as 60 by the application deadline of June 30. Based on the current rate of applicants, Darnell projects the foundation will receive only 20 applications for 30 total scholarships.

He said in an interview Monday that he’s not sure how to explain the sudden dip in interest, especially considering the more prominent role STEM programs are assuming at high schools across Hawaii.

“You need to include transcripts, so that might be an issue in that people are having trouble getting transcripts or maybe it’s running a little bit later this year,” Darnell posited.

Anyone planning to attend or continue their college education in a STEM-related field is eligible to apply, as the scholarships are merit based and focus on academic achievement, volunteerism, leadership and a handful of other traits evident in a student’s studies and/or extracurricular activities.

That means income level is not a factor. Military service by an applicant or an applicant’s family is also not a requirement, despite the money coming through a foundation connected to the U.S. armed forces. Money received can be used to cover the cost of books or tuition at any accredited college, according to the release.

Helen Chen — a pre-engineering major at Baylor University, who hopes one day to work as a civil engineer and help develop third-world countries — said the scholarship she received through the foundation has been instrumental to her ability to afford out-of-state tuition.

“Your generous scholarship will help me pay for college as I come from a low-income family, and Hawaii’s AFCEA has greatly helped lessen the financial burden of college on my parents,” Chen wrote in a letter to the foundation. “I hope to keep in touch as you continue to bless many students like me.”

Those interested in more information on available scholarships can access it at www.afceahef.org.

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