Seven Kern County teens are among 1,000 high school students across the nation who have been named Gates Millennium Scholars this year.
The prestigious scholarship for African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian Pacific Islander and Hispanic students pays for every year of both undergraduate and graduate education at the accredited college or university of the recipient's choice.
Winners must show high academic and leadership promise and have significant financial need.
Established in 1999, the Gates Millennium Scholars Program's goal is to increase the representation of minorities in the disciplines of computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health and the sciences.
The program was launched with a $1 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This year's local recipients are:
Vanessa Diaz, 17, Paramount Bard Academy
Diaz wants to major in art at the University of California, Berkeley. She hopes to use art in a career in special education.
“It’s to honor my grandmother, who is deaf,” she said. “I feel like working with kids with disabilities would be really rewarding.”
Sarai Garnica, 17, Foothill High School
Garnica wants to major in business and found a clinic that provides counseling to the homeless and severely disadvantaged.
"I'm really interested in the psychology behind those situations," she said. "I want to help the community."
Garnica will be attending Azusa Pacific University.
Joel Hernandez, 17, Foothill High School
Hernandez will be majoring in biology at University of California, Riverside, with the goal of becoming a family doctor.
"It's something I've always been interested in," he said. "I've always liked biology."
He is a football player a member of Club Ed (for future teachers) and the college readiness group Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.
Angel Lara, 17, Golden Valley High School
Lara plans to study some math or science discipline at the University of California, Berkeley.
He hasn't selected a major yet, but whatever he does, he wants to do it in Bakersfield.
"After graduation I want to go back to Bakersfield and give back to my community with a business that provides students with internships and other opportunities to enhance their learning," he said.
Lara is involved in science and medicine club, is a drum major and has won numerous academic awards.
Brianna Wright, 18, Highland High School
Wright has so enjoyed volunteering to help disadvantaged students at the school where her mother is an academic coach that she's decided to major in mathematics and teach math at a school in an impoverished area. She plans to attend Brigham Young University.
"I really do believe in education as a way to make change in cycles of poverty," she said.
Wright participates in forensics, Black Student Union and Key Club, and is her school's associated student body treasurer.
Jose Zuniga and Malcolm Rivera of Arvin High School were out of town at a national We the People competition, at which students demonstrate knowledge of the law and the U.S. Constitution.