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 Don Diego’s 23 Scholarship Recipients Are Eager to Make a Positive Difference

Don Diego Scholarship winners

The 23 graduating high school seniors from throughout San Diego are already vigorous leaders, successful entrepreneurs, and academic standouts poised to excel at universities around the country as they pursue scientific, environmental, healthcare, public service, and other careers that will beneficially impact their communities and the world. The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation’s Class of 2019 college scholarship recipients are going places, and Don Diego is delighted to help them arrive!

These 23 winners, who triumphed in a highly competitive year that saw nearly 100 qualified applicants, will share $66,000 in awards. They will be celebrated at Don Diego’s June 15, 2019 dinner and Smokey Robinson Concert at the San Diego County Fair. Gala details and tickets are at dondiegoscholarship.org.

Scholarships in the categories of FFA, 4-H, Employee, Exhibitor/Participant, Junior Livestock Auction (JLA), and Vocational Education were offered to students who reside in the San Diego area and have participated in the Fair and/or other activities associated with the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The coveted Spanjian Family Scholarship is annually awarded to the single most outstanding applicant of all.

Russell Sorbo of Ramona captured the highest honors, winning the top $5,000 FFA Scholarship plus the $5,000 Spanjian. He will use the total $10,000 award to pursue Goat Dairy Science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on his way to becoming a veterinarian. Don Diego Chairman Roxana Foxx states, “The selection committee unanimously agreed to award the Spanjian to Russell. We were impressed with his academic and extracurricular qualifications, FFA leadership, multiple Fair-related awards and excellent recommendations.” One teacher praised Russell’s “compassion, industriousness, determination and leadership.” Russell notes, “The Fair has guided me to my career path while helping me gain leadership skills and understand the importance of community. The experience has been life-changing.”

Margaret (Sissy) Sugarman, who lives and works on her family’s Sugar Sweet Farm in Encinitas, won a $5,000 JLA and a $2,500 4-H Scholarship, which together will help support her at Principia College, where she will major in Biology. Sissy’s goal of becoming a zoology veterinarian and conservationist was fostered from her long association with 4-H and what she calls “my idyllic childhood on the most beautiful farm in California.” This enterprising goat yoga teacher, honeybee educator, riding instructor, farm tour coordinator and winner of diverse prestigious honors including the Congressional Gold Medal, has competed successfully at the Fair since she was six. Sissy gleefully confides, “I was Spam Kid’s Chef of the Year, making my Spam Breakfast Pizza on the morning news. I also served as the Fair’s Junior Spokesperson.” A recommender said, “Sissy could be the Jane Goodall of her generation… scientist, promoter, activist, and protector.”

Other Top Recipients in their Category

Helen Buchanan, Ramona, $5,000 4-H Scholarship, UC Berkeley, Geology. Helen’s 4-H and Fair awards put her at the top of the class, which is also where she ranks academically at Mountain Valley Academy with a 4.11 grade point average; third in her class of 23. This ambitious student has already accumulated 44 credit hours in 13 classes at Palomar College. Helen recounts, “My years of positive Fair experiences have enabled me to entertain the public through Story Ballets, express myself in Creative Youth, positively impact the community through my beekeeping groups and enjoy time with family and friends in a safe, entertaining and fun environment.”

Katelyn Challman, San Diego, $5,000 Employee Scholarship, Alliant International University, Clinical Psychology. Katelyn began working for the Fair five years ago as a Ticket Taker. She rose to Shift Supervisor and ultimately to Gatekeeping Supervisor, leading a 40-person team of ticket takers welcoming patrons to the Fair. She also has served other organizations as a teaching assistant, mental health counselor, psychology assistant, and UCSD research assistant. Katelyn says, “Working for the Fair showed me a culture of acceptance, happiness, quality time, fun and inclusion, providing a unifying experience for the community. It has been fundamental to my educational success and professional development, as I work toward a PhD.”

Charlize Rice, Escondido, $5,000 Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship, UC Santa Cruz, Genetic Engineering/Molecular Biology. Charlize attained a 3.75 grade point average at Escondido High while dealing with her family’s economic struggles. She has worked at many demanding jobs, including the restoration of 14th century carpets and rugs. Last summer, as a research associate at the Salk Institute, she engineered a toolkit to visualize undiscovered spinal neurons. Charlize has competed successfully in landscape design at the Fairgrounds for three years; currently serving as her school’s team captain and achieving recognition as one of the state’s top youth horticulturists. A recommender praised her as “a model woman of character, strength and ambition.”

Other recipients are:

  • Elijah Martineau, Valley Center $2,500 FFA and $2,500 JLA Scholarships, Humboldt State University, Wildlife Biology
  • Leah Gill, Ramona, $2,500 4-H Scholarship, Louisiana State University, Animal Science
  • Sol Kier, Escondido, $2,500 Employee Scholarship, Grossmont Occupation Center, Nursing
  • Robert Carmichael, Poway, $2,500 Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship, UCSD, Physics
  • Miranda Medford, Lakeside, $1,500 FFA and $1,000 JLA Scholarships, University of Missouri, Nutrition and Food Science
  • Isai Soto, Fallbrook, $1,500 JLA and $1,000 FFA Scholarships, Georgetown University, Political Science
  • Nick LaRocco, San Diego, $2,500 Vocational Education Scholarship, Miramar College, EMT/Firefighter
  • Kasin Martin, Escondido, $2,500 Vocational Education Scholarship, Miramar College, Diesel Technology
  • Jacqueline Kinch, Ramona, $1,500 Employee Scholarship, Palomar College, Biology
  • Evan Wright, Carlsbad, $1,500 Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship, USC, Interactive Entertainment
  • Elizabeth Navarro, Fallbrook, $1,000 Employee Scholarship, Palomar College, Business
  • Emilie Melnychuk, Carlsbad, $1,000 Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship, Cal Poly SLO, Environmental Science
  • Kassidy Gray, Ramona, $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Cal State University East Bay, Nursing
  • Johanna Jimenez, Escondido, $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Cal State University Chico, Agriculture Business
  • Hailey Bjerknes, Escondido, $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Palomar College, Agriculture Education
  • Rachel Utter, Valley Center, $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Montana State University, Agriculture Business
  • Megan Kelly, Ramona, $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Cal State University San Marcos, major TBD
  • Marisol Solas, Vista $1,000 JLA Scholarship, Cal State University Chico, Animal Science

Don Diego Executive Director Chana Mannen notes, “As our Foundation’s roots are steeped in agriculture, it is heartening to note that nine of our Scholars plan to continue our region’s robust tradition. Indeed, all 23 recipients are ambitious, idealistic, ready, eager and capable of being the change they want to see in the world. We wish each of them the best!”

The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as the Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947-1984.

To date since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded approximately $1,040,000 in scholarships to 257 students and in agriculture education grants. More information is at dondiegoscholarship.org.