Inspiring Stories of Determination and Success Among the 10 Recipients of PG&E’s $1 Million College Scholarship Program

SAN FRANCISCO--()--When student Leon Kwak learned he had won a PG&E Better Together STEM Scholarship, his mother Jung Ha burst into tears of pride and relief. Kwak is one of 10 outstanding students from Central and Northern California who are receiving this year’s Better Together STEM Scholarships. In total, PG&E is investing $1 million in these students’ futures.

Graduating first in his class of 360 students from Westmont High School, Kwak has ambitious plans. He will enter the University of California at Berkeley in the fall and study bioengineering. The PG&E Better Together STEM Scholarship program is enabling Kwak and nine other scholars to dream big.

“PG&E’s scholarships are not just investments in the brilliant students who receive them, but also in the future of our communities overall. These students are tomorrow’s innovators, leaders and problem-solvers, and we’re proud to help them achieve even greater things in their education and careers. We hope these bright students consider PG&E as a potential employer when they graduate,” said PG&E Senior Vice President of External Affairs and Public Policy Helen Burt.

‘This is life-changing’

The scholarships, worth up to $20,000 a year and renewable for five years, certainly lift a huge financial burden off the students and their families. Two examples:

“This past year has been pretty stressful—every month sitting there trying to figure out how to pay for things,” said recipient Krista Miguel, who supports herself financially working part-time at Fresno State University as a study facilitator. The scholarship will enable her to complete her studies debt-free.

Scholar Dominic Navarro’s mother, Teresa O’Hanlon, was ecstatic when she heard the news. “This is life-changing for our family. PG&E has given him a clear shot at the American dream. He doesn’t have to worry about working 10, 20 hours a week when he’s going to school,” said O’Hanlon.

‘An example for everyone’

PG&E’s Better Together STEM Scholars were selected from nearly 4,000 applicants. They were chosen based on academics and financial need, as well as their ability to overcome adversity and contributions to their communities. A couple of examples:

Troubled by seeing so many of his peers struggling with their weight, Jorge Avelar-Lopez of Oakland created an app game that helps teens battle obesity. “I know a lot of people in my community who are overweight,” he said. “The app is designed to help them make smarter food choices and have fun at the same time.”

San Jose State University student Alondra Varela has devoted years to the East Oakland Youth Development Center as a volunteer and tutor. “I still see the same struggles that I saw when I was in high school,” she said. “It’s just great to be involved in your own community and use that anger to change yourself and be an example for everyone else.”

Overcoming adversity

Each student shares a story of undaunted determination to achieve both personal and academic excellence. Two examples:

Sacramento-based scholar Oluchukwu Okwu traveled home from the University of California, Berkeley, every weekend (a round-trip distance of 200 miles) to care for her father after he suffered a significant medical crisis. She still succeeded in founding a Black Student Union on campus.

Stephen Boyle of Lodi was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition in the seventh grade. Sidelined from sports, he channeled his need for competition into math and science. He joined the Science Bowl team and coached younger kids. Upon receiving the scholarship, he said, “I’m breathtaken. I know that my parents were worried about paying for my college experience, and I’m really glad that PG&E even thought of me for this scholarship, and could give me this.”

Read more about each scholarship recipient and what the support means to them at

In addition to the 10 Better Together STEM Scholars, PG&E is awarding $2,000, one-time scholarships to 90 deserving students.

Since the program’s inception in 2012, the PG&E Better Together Scholarship program has committed nearly $4 million in scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $30,000 to 500 students in Northern and Central California. The PG&E Better Together Scholarship program is part of the company’s larger commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. PG&E has a long history of supporting local educational initiatives, providing more than $75 million over the last decade.

PG&E’s broader Better Together Giving Program further demonstrates the company’s commitment to building a better future together. With a focus on education, economic vitality, the environment and emergency preparedness, PG&E is aligning charitable resources with the company’s values. Working closely with local community organizations, PG&E is helping to create a strong, resilient and sustainable California. Community investments are funded entirely by the company’s shareholders.

The 10 students awarded with the PG&E’s 2016 Better Together STEM Scholarships are:

Name     Hometown     School Attending
Jorge Avelar-Lopez     Oakland     Stanford University
Stephen Boyle     Stockton     University of California, Berkeley
Claire Killian     Petaluma     University of California, Berkeley
Leon Kwak     San Jose     University of California, Berkeley
Olivia Leiker     Chico     University of California, Berkeley
Krista Miguel     Fresno     California State University, Fresno
Dominic Navarro     Rocklin     Stanford University
Oluchukwu Okwu     Sacramento     University of California, Berkeley
Jineava To     Bakersfield     University of California, Los Angeles
Alondra Varela     Oakland     San Jose State University

About PG&E

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), and the PG&E Corporation Foundation strive to power strong communities throughout Northern and Central California. Through the 2015 Better Together Giving Program, PG&E contributed more than $25 million to nearly 1,600 charitable organizations, including matching the generosity of employees who donated more than $7.9 million and volunteered more than 85,000 hours to company-supported events. Community investments are funded entirely by the company’s shareholders. For more information, visit


Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Hailey Wilson, 415-973-5930


Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Hailey Wilson, 415-973-5930