South Texas College
Country of origin: Mexico
At first glance, 18 year old Cecilia G. Corral seems a typical sweet, smart and well-mannered young lady graduating high school. She offers smiles to everyone she meets. But lying beneath that calm and friendly exterior lays the brain of a mental giant.
Why you ask? She earned her associate's degree in Engineering through STC's Dual Enrollment Engineering Academy at the same time that she is graduating as the salutatorian of PSJA High School. But, that is just one of many reasons she was awarded the 2008 STC Presidential Inspirational Achievement Award by college President Shirley A. Reed.
"As founding president of the college, I established the award in 1995 and have personally funded the annual $1,000 scholarship prize because I believe it is important to recognize students who have excelled beyond the norm," said Reed. "Every year I receive compelling nominations and it is difficult to choose just one winner. Each of our graduates is a winner, a success story. But, for this award, I selected someone who has risen above the fold, standing out as a role model; a role model for other students of all ages and even a role model for adults in our community."
The youngest of four children, Corral is the daughter of Jose Sr. and Francisca. Born and raised in Mexico, her parents were not afforded the luxury of a college education. However, that did not stop them from pushing their children to fulfill their goals.
Her mother Francisca was a homemaker who made sure Corral focused on her schoolwork and nurtured her daughter's budding intelligence and ambition. Francisca's creativity and problem solving in her homemaking rubbed off on her daughter, leading to Corral's interest in art and, ultimately, the art of engineering.
Her father was the role model for her service work. His generosity and compassion for others is evident through his equipment donations to nursing homes and hospitals. Her sister Claudia continued to foster Corral's interest in creativity, encouraging her sister to shadow her at work at a local Valley advertising agency. Her brother Jose Jr. was the model for Corral's self reliance and service through his service in the Marines in Iraq.
But, it was her sister Carolina who paved the pathway to higher education for Corral. A graduate of STC's Culinary Arts Program, Carolina was the first in her family to go to college. She served as a mentor for Corral, pushing her to reach her full potential and proving that anything is possible.
"My entire family has been very supportive and they are proud of all my accomplishments, but if it weren't for Carolina, I don't think I would be where I am today," said Corral. "She is the one that proved that college was an option. She is the one that has motivated me to continue applying for scholarships and keep up my work."
Beyond her academic excellence, Corral is a giving soul. She is an Americorps volunteer, which is a national group organizing young adults to make the most of their skills and talents through volunteer service in their communities. Ever ambitious, she took on a 900-hour commitment starting in 2007 at the Boys and Girls Club in Pharr.
"Although 900 hours of service may seem like a lot to take on, especially given my academic commitments, I do it because I just love the children," said Corral. "I would rather be at the club spending time with my little brothers and sisters, as I like to call them, than just sitting at home watching TV or surfing the Internet."
Corral has also devoted time to Driscoll Children's Hospital, the South Texas Health Fair and many projects through school. Her most recent service project was inspired by her brother. She organized students to put together care packages for Valley soldiers serving in Iraq. Through her efforts, more than 200 care packages were assembled, bringing a taste of home and some happiness to brave young men and women.
She is an active member in her high school community, serving as treasurer of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and a member of the National Honor Society, the Art Club and the Student Council.
What has all of this hard work, drive and determination earned her? More than $600,000 in scholarships, including a full ride to Stanford University in California.
"I never thought I would get into Stanford and it was a thrill to receive the acceptance letter," said Corral. "I recently attended a welcoming event for incoming students and I was shocked that some of the faculty members and administrators already knew me by name. I felt very special and I am anxious to get back and start my studies."
Corral is also one of only 1,000 students in the U.S. to earn a Gates Millennium Scholarship this year. She is a National Hispanic Scholar, an Outstanding Student of America and an AP Scholar.
When asked what is the key to her success, her answer is simple, but profound.
"I try and I don't give up. I finish what I start and I try to think positively."