On the morning of Monday, February 28, 2011, Federico Urbano Munoz boarded a plane at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport bound for Las Vegas. Federico was honored that day at the 33rd Annual WESTOP (Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel) Conference as the recipient of the Peggy J. Whitehead Scholarship. WESTOP is one of ten regional associations dedicated to furthering educational opportunities for low income, first generation and disabled students and is comprised of six chapters within its region: Arizona, Central California, Nevada, Northern California, Pacific Islands, and Southern California.
The Peggy J. Whitehead Scholarship pays tribute to Mrs. Whitehead, who began her career with the U.S. Department of Education in 1965. For the following 37 years, she worked tirelessly for the good of TRiO students until her retirement in 2002. To recognize and honor Peggy's commitment and dedication to TRiO students, WESTOP created a $1,000 scholarship to assist TRiO high school seniors with their educational goals. As the host chapter of this year's conference, the Nevada Chapter members were allowed to nominate current pre-college students within their chapter and Federico Urbano Munoz was selected as the 2011 recipient.
Federico has been a participant in the Upward Bound Program at the University of Nevada, Reno since Summer 2007, and is currently a senior at Galena High School in Reno, Nevada. After his first year in high school, Federico was ranked #1 in his class, steadily moving along into his sophomore year. However, in the summer of 2008, one of Federico's closest friends passed away at the age of 15 from cancer. Federico struggled with what had happened and as a result, his grades declined, his health suffered, and his passion for life all but disappeared. In the spring of that year, Federico was encouraged by his Upward Bound counselor, Jennifer Bieth, to apply for the Upward Bound Math and Science Program at the University of California, Berkeley in order to help him begin to rebuild and recover from his loss.
Federico was accepted to the Berkeley program, to which he gives credit for not only changing his life, but also for helping him to discover his passion for and enjoyment of science, especially the field of biochemistry, in which he plans to major. "At this point, I have become interested in biochemistry thanks to the summer program that has taught me a lot about science and also from my chemistry teacher from my high school, Mr. Schnaible. Thanks to him, he also taught me a lot and one time I was really interested in chemistry and he started talking about a bunch of branches in it and eventually it just stuck - biochemistry."
Since then, Federico has dedicated himself to his studies, and has improved his GPA to over a 3.5, while taking several honors and AP courses in high school. He has been accepted to four universities and colleges so far, and is awaiting decisions from several more. Federico is a role model to younger students and often encourages them to do better than they expect from themselves.
During Federico's speech to accept his award, he acknowledged the help he received from the Upward Bound Program. "Without Upward Bound, I don't know what my GPA would have been. I don't know where I would be right now. I have to thank everyone from the core staff, the director of our program, Elza Major, to my counselor, Jennifer Bieth, to the tutors that we have that basically everyday told us to do your homework and helped us if we had any problems." He went on to say, "To me, Upward Bound is more than a program, it's my family - it's an extension of my family. Whenever I'm around the program, I feel safe - I feel like I'm at home." Federico concluded by adding, "I'm just very thankful to the program - Upward Bound TRiO for giving me and my family this opportunity."