Sallie Mae Announces Winners of the 'Make College Happen Challenge'

Grand-Prize Winner Blake Takushi of Sugar Land, Texas, Awarded $15,000

Second-Place Winner Gabriel Gaurano of San Diego, California, Receives $10,000

Third-Place Winner Amy Wisegarver of Sammamish, Washington, Wins $8,000

NEWARK, Del.--()--Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company, today announced the winners of the “Make College Happen Challenge,” the contest which asked high school students to describe creatively their plan to pay for college. Blake Takushi of Sugar Land, Texas, took home the top prize of $15,000; second-place winner Gabriel Gaurano of San Diego, California, won $10,000; and third-place winner Amy Wisegarver of Sammamish, Washington, won $8,000. The winners, along with the seven other finalists, each of whom received $1,000, were revealed during a special event on Facebook Live.

More than 1,100 students from across the country entered the “Make College Happen Challenge,” with creative entries that included videos, rap songs, poems, essays, and other creative forms. A panel of judges narrowed the field to 10 finalists based on creativity, effective communication, and potential of the plan. Voting was then opened to the public, who cast more than 35,000 votes for their favorite entries.

Grand-prize winner Blake Takushi, 18, is a senior and honor student-athlete at Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas. He plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Blake submitted an engaging video that provided practical advice about planning for college, including taking advanced placement courses to earn college credits while still in high school, exploring dual-enrollment opportunities through local community colleges, working part-time to save money, applying for scholarships, and borrowing responsibly to make college happen.

Second-place winner Gabriel Gaurano, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego, California, is already following his dream of becoming a filmmaker. The 17-year-old filmmaker combined both suspense and humor in his video submission, providing tips for making college happen, such as working part-time, searching and applying for scholarships, and completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Gaurano also provided practical personal finance tips to help young people understand their finances and manage their budgets.

Third-place winner Amy Wisegarver, 18, is a senior at Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Washington. She plans to study graphic design in college. An entrepreneur — she’s already started her own line of T-shirts — and musician, Wisegarver wrote, produced, and performed a song about her dream of attending college and her efforts to make that happen, which included winning scholarships, completing the FAFSA, and working.

“The ‘Make College Happen Challenge’ goes hand-in-hand with our mission here at Sallie Mae,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie Mae. “It’s especially gratifying to see these young people embrace the challenge of planning for college not only creatively, but also practically, providing real-world advice to their peers who may be on this same journey. Their excitement during our Facebook Live event was priceless. Congratulations to all the winners. You inspire the students and families out there working hard to make college happen.”

Watch the winners’ reactions on Facebook Live.

Sallie Mae conducted the “Make College Happen Challenge” in partnership with By Kids For Kids, a leader in education that inspires innovation in youth.

“We are thrilled to once again be working with Sallie Mae to help students plan for college,” said Norm Goldstein, founder and CEO, By Kids For Kids. “We were blown away by this year’s entries and the overwhelming response from the public, who cast even more votes than last year. We congratulate not just the winners, but all the contest participants who are taking the right steps to turn their college dreams into reality.”

Sallie Mae also awarded $1,000 to the following “Make College Happen Challenge” winners who rounded out the top 10 finalists:

  • Jasmine Chan of Alhambra, California
  • Sarah Wouters of Port St. Lucie, Florida
  • Madison Stano of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Amy Wieland of West Des Moines, Iowa
  • Benjamin Trimpi of Greenville, North Carolina
  • Vincent Marchi of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Adriena Pew of Shaw Island, Washington

Join the conversation on social media using #MakeCollegeHappenChallenge. For complete contest rules, visit

For more information about saving, planning, and paying for college, visit

Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) is the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards, scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail banking. Learn more at Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


Sallie Mae
Rick Castellano, 302-451-2541

Release Summary

Sallie Mae announces winners of the "Make College Happen Challenge."


Sallie Mae
Rick Castellano, 302-451-2541