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LCC student wins $30,000 annual national scholarship

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LCC engineering student Sean Gestson said he’s "totally humbled" after winning the nation’s largest scholarship for community college transfer students, which he’ll use to finance a bachelor’s degree through the University of Portland.

Sean Gestson grew up in Longview and graduated in 2003 from R.A. Long High School, where he was an honors student, but he didn’t plan to go to college. Three generations of his family, including both his parents, had successful jobs in the mills, and he expected to do the same.

Instead, “I floundered around trying to find the right job,” he said.

He worked in retail and the service industry, but he never felt challenged. “I worked and really just kind of didn’t do anything — nothing productive,” he said. “I was sick of working. I knew I needed to do something different.”

At age 25, Gestson entered Lower Columbia College. The Longview resident, now 28, will graduate in June with an associate’s degree in engineering. This August he’ll transfer to the University of Portland — which he’ll pay for with a prestigious scholarship.

Gestson has been selected to receive the nation’s largest scholarship for community college transfer students — up to $30,000 per year — from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which in April awarded 73 scholarships.

“I’m totally humbled by this experience,” Gestson said last week. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

He said he had to pass through several levels in the nomination process, beginning with LCC. At the Cooke Foundation, a committee of 37 admissions professionals and professors reviewed 769 nominations from 377 community colleges in 45 states and Washington, D.C. The foundation chooses scholars for their “exceptional academic ability and achievements, financial need, persistence, leadership and desire to help others,” according to the foundation’s website.

Gestson said he couldn’t have succeeded it without LCC faculty members helping and inspiring him.

“It’s definitely a team effort, for sure,” he said.

He and his wife will move to Portland this summer. Classes begin in August.

His initial goal when he entered LCC was to earn a general transfer degree, but while taking science and math courses he realized he “still had those abilities” to understand the concepts. He also discovered he gets excited about learning.

Looking for a field that combines math and science, “I decided to shoot for engineering, the most difficult thing I could try to do,” he said. “If I failed, at least I knew I tried my best. So far, it’s worked out.”

He financed his LCC education through the LCC Foundation scholarships and Student Support Services. He and his wife of two years, Ashley, both have jobs, which disqualified him for need-based financial aid but isn’t enough to meet college costs, especially at the university level, he said.

The Cooke scholarship covers tuition, housing, books and other needs up to $30,000, Gestson said. “It’s meant to prevent you from needing to take out loans.”

Gestson credits Ashley for inspiring him to go for a bachelor’s in environmental engineering.

“Her environmental focus and passion rubbed off on me,” he said. In his future career he wants to “make sure that when we’re building things, we’re doing it in a way that’s protecting the environment.”

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