ACPS Celebrates Two Posse Scholars

Pic: Maria Stakem
  • Maria Stakem

  • When Titan senior Maria Stakem opened her laptop one day last year to begin the lengthy application process for the prestigious Posse scholarship, she quickly got disheartened and walked away.

    "I just didn't think I stood a chance when I read about the type of person they were looking for. I just didn't think I would stand out," she said. "I gave up and forgot about it."

    Two weeks later a phone call from Oceanography teacher Trisha Christopher put her back on track and with Christopher's encouragement, Maria began a process that ended last month with a life-changing call to say, "Congratulations, you made it."

    Now, the 17-year-old, along with fellow Titan Leonora Rodriguez, can look forward to a $250,000 scholarship to attend college later this year. The pair celebrated with a virtual ceremony last week.

    The Posse Scholarship is a highly sought after award which seeks out students with leadership skills from across the nation. The seniors who are selected go on to form tight-knit cohorts at select colleges, the idea being that they form a support system that lasts throughout their education and beyond.

    Maria, who is one of eight siblings, will be attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison where she will major in social work, following in the footsteps of her older sister. Leonora, who grew up in Puerto Rico and was 15 years old and a sophomore when she enrolled at T.C., will be attending Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. She plans to major in biomedical sciences with an eye on a career in aerospace engineering.

    "It's truly a bit difficult to describe the feeling of joy and relief I had when they told me I had been accepted," explained Leonora.

    Maria added, "I didn't see myself as having leadership promise and it wasn't until I learned that leadership comes in many forms, that's when I started to really take my chances seriously. As I passed through each selection stage I grew more confident," Maria said.

    "What really appealed to me was the fact that when you went away to college you would already have a group of people that you knew, so you wouldn't feel alone. I was worried about being so far away and making friends."

    But still, when the news came over a Zoom call later one December night, she was left speechless.

    "They asked me one final question and that was why I wanted to pursue social work."

    "I can't really remember how I answered, I thought I rambled but at the end, they told me I had been successful."

    "I cried, my mom cried, my younger sister thought I was upset and I had to explain they were happy tears."

    For both students, having all college expenses paid is a huge relief. Maria had been working a weekend job to try and save up.

    Leonora said that as a child she watched her mother cry over bills and that having money was always regarded as a privilege in her home.

    "Having everything paid for college is indescribable. It's a great relief to my parents to have had this all paid off," she added.

    Both thanked T.C. College & Career Center School Counselor Stacy Morris and the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria for the guidance they received during the process.

    T.C. principal Peter Balas paid tribute to his students.

    "I am so proud of Leonora and Maria for earning this life-changing recognition. They both have put in years of hard work and dedication to all areas of student life. I know they will take full advantage of this opportunity and go on to do great things."

Leonora Rodriguez
  • Leonora Rodriguez