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Orestimba senior Alexa Castaneda earned a full-ride scholarship to Columbia University.

For most high school seniors across the country, college is the gateway to a burgeoning life, expanding knowledge at a higher level, while following a passion in a major with hopes of one day making it an every day occupation.

But in some cases students who do work hard and challenge themselves in school are not able to go to a college of their dreams due to their family financial background preventing them from advancing to that next step in life.

Orestimba High senior Alexa Castaneda changed that path for herself as she is among the 501 seniors nationwide who are seeing their college dreams become reality through a non-profit organization which provides full-ride scholarships to high-achieving, low-income scholars.

She first heard about this program through former Orestimba graduate Danny Navarrete, who earned a four-year scholarship to Princeton University back in 2015 from the QuestBridge program.

“I remember during distance learning talking to him and just expressing how stressed I was feeling about the thought of paying for college,” said Castaneda. “I knew I wouldn’t have enough coming from a low-income family, so he introduced me to the QuestBridge scholarship and I just went for it.”

She was accepted to the ivy league school Columbia University in New York City through the program, which links deserving students with partner universities. She will receive a four-year scholarship, where she will pursue a major in Medical Humanities. Castaneda said she ultimately hopes and plans to pursue a career in disaster medicine or advocacy medicine, or in both to help with organizations such as the American Red Cross.

“I wanted to get into something like this because my father is disabled, and either myself or my mom are helping with his physical therapy,” Castaneda said. “Just watching him struggle at times, made me want to continue my help for him and others who need it.”

Castaneda and her older brother, who is currently attending college, are first-generation college students in their family. 

She said her parents, Brenda and Jose Castaneda, are the ones who motivated her the most and pushed her to go to college to seek a better life for herself, since they did not have the chance to attend a college.

At Orestimba, Castaneda is no stranger to academic rigor or challenges and has stayed focused every step of the way while balancing being in five school clubs, working as an assistant in a hospital, and keeping her mind on getting into a top school of her dreams.

“With the help from my parents, counselors, and family, I really have been challenging myself every year since my freshmen year being in AP classes and also setting a goal of getting straight As,” Castaneda said.

As she prepares for this big step in her life, where she can put forth her focus and determination, she hopes she can inspire other students like Danny Navarrete did for her.

She will soon be taking that same drive and determination to one of the nation’s most prestigious schools.

“If at times you feel unmotivated trust me it’s okay because I’ve felt like that many times, just remember to take breaks when you need them, breathe and do your best in your academics and always challenge yourself,” said Castaneda. “Also take that chance of going after something that seems scary, because you never know it might work out for you like it did for me.”