When Century High School counselor Beau Menchaca saw that just one in five students at the campus was applying for financial aid for college, one of the most important steps in the application process, he decided to get busy.
Five years ago, Menchaca began meeting with fellow counselors, school administrators, parent groups and community members with a goal of creating a school environment at the Santa Ana campus where every student would apply for Cal Grants and other state and federal financial aid.
He organized financial aid workshops. He reopened the school’s Higher Education Center, a place where students could find information about SAT and AP exam fee waivers, University of California and California State University entrance requirements, and other college information. And Menchaca worked with scores of students individually to calculate how much each could receive in financial aid.
This year, the number of seniors at Century High who applied for financial aid reached 91 percent, one of the highest rates not just in Santa Ana Unified, but also across all of Orange County.
Menchaca’s dedication to his work and students has earned him the 2018 Arthur S. Marmaduke Award, the highest honor for counselors presented annually by the California Student Aid Commission.
“We heard from students who described his extraordinary commitment in assisting them in applying to colleges and encouraging them to complete applications for state and federal financial aid,” said Lupita Cortez Alcalá, the student aid commission’s executive director.
Cortez Alcalá, along with U.S. Congressman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), and other local politicians and school leaders, presented Menchaca with the Marmaduke Award inside Century High’s gymnasium in front of hundreds of cheering students on Friday. Menchaca also received a California Legislative resolution, a commemorative plaque and a $1,500 cash prize.
“His efforts have resulted in many students pursuing their education dreams, and he has truly made a difference in the lives of his students and their families,” Cortez Alcalá said.
While accepting the award, Menchaca credited fellow counselors, parents and other supporters for helping boost the number of college ready students at Century High.
“Accomplishments we have made don’t happen because of one person. It takes a team of dedicated people who are all willing to come together for a common goal,” he said.
Since he began working as a counselor at Century High 17 years ago, Menchaca has been credited with helping secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid for thousands of students. He’s also encouraged countless students who weren’t looking at college to consider a path to higher education.
“I’ve known Beau for many years. To me, he is in a small circle of exceptional counselors,” said Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares, who served as Santa Ana Unified superintendent in the 2000s. “He is supercharged when it comes to meeting the needs of students. He advocates for them, doing everything he can to ensure they are college and career ready.”
Mijares added, “He is a passionate man when it comes to helping students in Santa Ana, especially first-generation college students, those who don’t always know how to navigate the college admissions process.”
Marmaduke Award nominations are solicited annually by the California Student Aid Commission. Arthur S. Marmaduke was one of the longest running executive directors of the commission, serving for 25 years beginning in 1960. The award was established in 1985 to carry on his legacy of making education beyond high school financially accessible to all Californians.