In about two years, Burlington-Edison High School senior Lucy Raqueño hopes to be working as a dental technician, earning a living and becoming the first of her family to earn a degree in higher education.

“My whole family has been working in the fields for many years,” said Lucy’s twin sister Carmen, who also wants to pursue a career in dentistry.

To achieve her goals, Lucy this year will apply for a new scholarship from the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS) program designed to help students pursuing two-year career and technical opportunities.

“We know there’s a need for trades as well as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and health care,” said Hannah Olson, talent resource manager with WSOS. “This is all based on what Washington is saying is in high demand.”

Established in 2011, WSOS previously provided scholarships of up to $22,500 for thousands of students pursuing four-year degrees in the STEM and health care fields — fields that are important to the state’s economy, but that students haven’t been entering fast enough, state Sen. Keith Wagoner said.

“Washington’s not growing enough of our own workers, so we’re having to hire people from out of state to fill those positions,” Wagoner said. “Washington jobs for Washington students should be a goal of ours.”

In Skagit County, the number of students who have received those scholarships has been on the rise every year since 2014, when the Skagit STEM Network formed, Wagoner said.

This year, 56 students from Skagit County high schools earned more than $1.2 million in the four-year scholarships, according to the organization.

“This gives (students the) opportunity where talent exists and people don’t have the money to pay for it to get started,” Wagoner said. “Scholarships of any kind are great. Scholarships that are focused on helping our state’s economy are even better.”

But Olson said the state realized the four-year scholarship wasn’t right for everyone.

Last year state legislators signed a bill that expanded the WSOS scholarship to students seeking two-year opportunities at any of the state’s 34 community and technical colleges.

This year is the first year students can apply for the new Career and Technical Scholarship.

“I just want to get the certificate and start working,” Lucy Raqueño said. “It’s difficult to pay by yourself.”

With the two-year scholarship, students receive financial help of up to $1,500 per quarter for things such as tuition, books and living expenses while they pursue careers in fields from welding to medical assisting to information technology.

Such programs are offered locally at Skagit Valley College and Bellingham Technical College.

Students also receive mentorship and other support along the way, Olson said.

For some students, especially those who may not qualify for other financial aid opportunities, the WSOS scholarships are a great opportunity, said Dalila Rodriguez, college and career specialist at Burlington-Edison High School.

“It’s great to see all this money,” Rodriguez said.

Olson said the goal is for at least 500 students to receive the scholarship this year, with at least half receiving it for fall quarter.

“We want as many people in every corner of Washington to know about this opportunity,” she said.

Interested students have until July 12 to apply for the scholarship for fall quarter. For more information, visit: waopportunityscholarship.org/students/applicants/cts/.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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