When Irene Tang’s father had a stroke a few years ago, it brought her college plans into focus. She always liked math and science, but her father’s illness, followed by a second stroke last year, set her on a course to pursue biomedical engineering.
“My father’s second stroke in 2014 sparked my curiosity in developing an affordable medical nanoscale robot for prospective stroke patients,” the South Pasadena High School senior said. “The robot should remove fatty deposits from artery walls and break up blood clots into smaller pieces before they cause damage to the brain.”
Irene won a coveted offer to attend Swarthmore College, a small private school outside Philadelphia. But tuition, room and board runs nearly $60,000 a year.
Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison, gave Irene’s plans a major boost when she recently received a $40,000 Edison Scholars award.
Irene is one of 30 high school seniors in Southern California selected for this year’s scholarships. The program is aimed at underrepresented minority and low-income students. To be eligible, the applicant must have at least a 2.8 grade-point average and plan to major in STEM — science, technology, engineering or math. This year, 2,768 students applied, an 86-percent increase over the 1,491 last year.
An unsuspecting Irene learned the news during her noon-hour Advanced Placement biology class. She said she thought it was a little odd to see the photographers and a video crew in her classroom, but really didn’t give it any thought until Tammy Tumbling, SCE’s director of Philanthropy and Community Investment, strode into the class and called Irene to the front of the room.
“I almost forgot I applied for the scholarship,” said a stunned Irene. “It’s definitely going to help with tuition and room and board.”
Irene’s mother, Judy, attended the surprise class presentation. She said she always knew Irene was headed for great things because of her curiosity as a little girl. She always followed her father, an engineer, around, pestering him with questions.
It was Francisco Martinez, SCE Local Public Affairs region manager, who first called Judy about her daughter’s selection as an Edison Scholar.
“I thought, ‘Wow, no way,’” she recalled. “We did not expect to get it.”
Another surprise visit took place at King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science where senior Isai Rea learned the news about his scholarship during his Advanced Placement calculus class.
Isai hopes to pursue civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
“It is like a symbol of all the hard work I’ve put in and then I’ll take it with me to my dorm so I will remember that I am going to graduate in four years without any student loans,” he said after receiving the check. “That is going to be amazing."