Phoenix migrant student wins award for academics
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 28, 2005

Mel MelÚndez


CENTRAL PHOENIX - Jesus Daniel Mendoza spent most of his childhood moving throughout the Southwest with his parents as immigrant farm workers seeking fieldwork.

But despite the constant uprooting, Mendoza never lost sight of excelling in school so that he could some day attend college.

"We moved more than I can remember," said the Alhambra High School senior. "But my parents always stressed the value of getting an education and supported my studies, which helped me stay on track."

Some would call that an understatement.

The 18-year-old has a 4.3 grade-point average and he recently snared a full-ride four-year scholarship to Arizona State University, where he'll study electrical engineering. He'll also be touted today at ASU for his commitment to academic excellence and community service, including membership in the National Honors Society and volunteering for the non-profit Chicanos Por La Causa.

Mendoza is one of 12 Phoenix region Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards winners. The honor comes with a $2,000 to $3,000 scholarship and a shot at six national awards netting additional $5,000 scholarships, laptops and trips to Miami and Washington, D.C.

The goal is to highlight successful Latino students, who can then serve as role models for others, including those at highest risk for dropping out, said Gerald Vukas, who produces Phoenix's awards program.

Latinos drop out at nearly double the rate of Whites and Asian-Americans, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. What's more, the Kids Count 2004 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Arizona 50th among states for the worst dropout rate.

This year, more than 250 kids applied for the award in six categories: academic excellence, community service, engineering and mathematics, health care, journalism and sports. Mendoza snared the $2,000 silver medallion award in engineering and mathematics.

"It's a little humbling," he said. "I was just doing this to motivate my sisters to do well. But knowing that I can motivate other Hispanic kids makes me feel proud."

Reach the reporter at mel or (602) 444-8212.