Presidential Scholars winner centers life on helping others

Luthia Chang, this year's Presidential Scholar
Luthia Chang, this year's Presidential Scholar

August 30, 2011
By Darla Martin Tucker

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( Luthia Chang received the email from La Sierra University’s Enrollment Services office the second week of August and the news it contained startled her.

“I just assumed I wasn’t accepted,” said the 18-year-old incoming La Sierra University freshman and pre-medical major. “As I read through [the email] I thought, ‘is this a joke?’ It was a very nice surprise.” The email was an announcement from Enrollment Services Vice President David Lofthouse congratulating Chang on her selection as this year’s Presidential Scholars winner, a full ride award of a year’s tuition, books, fees and other class expenses. At a value of approximately $27,500, it is the university’s single largest annual scholarship and is renewable each year based on the recipient’s service activities and grade point average.

Chang was selected for the award for her commitment to serving her community and her family, and for her academic achievement. In May she was named a California Scholarship Federation Life Seal Bearer for maintaining a grade point average of 3.8 or higher for more than eight semesters. She was a California Scholarship Federation member all four years at Los Angeles Baptist High School in North Hills.

Her efforts to help those around her included volunteering at her family’s church, the Church Everyday in Northridge and its Korean school, the Los Angeles Public Library in her hometown of Van Nuys, and the U.S. Veterans Hospital in North Hills. “I just loved seeing the people smile and having a relationship with them,” she said. While at La Sierra she plans to volunteer as an emergency medical technician for which she received training this summer.

Her desire to help others and her strong work ethic began at home. She worked for her father’s businesses for two years in clerical roles while serving as an English-to-Korean translator for him. When her father’s company, Maple Dyeing Inc. had to close in 2009, her mother began working long hours and Chang filled the void at home helping cook, clean, take care of her grandparents and aid her brother with his Algebra and English homework. She also helped her father research alternative employment and sometimes accompanied him to interviews to translate.

“I would wake up with my biology homework on my face and the alarm clock on the floor. I would rush out the door with a Pop Tart in my mouth and my biology notes in my hand,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay.

The Presidential Scholars award proved providential for the Changs. “It was so exciting. We were so happy,” said Mimi Chang, Luthia’s mother. “We’re having difficulties right now.”

Despite the hardships, the Chang family maintained their faith. Mimi and Chin Chang, Luthia’s father, are immigrants from Pusan and Seoul, Korea respectively. They raised Luthia and her younger brother, David, with an emphasis first on spiritual values and faith in God believing that “if you’re spiritually strong, [achievement] will follow because God will bless us,” Luthia Chang said, translating for her mother.

While challenged with a hectic schedule in high school, Chang found time for school activities including participating in track and cross-country athletic events, establishing a culture debate club, and tutoring after school.

And as her brother took on more household responsibilities, Chang looked for ways to volunteer. “I knew that there were people in worse situations than me and I wanted to encourage them,” she wrote in her essay.

Chang is pondering a career in the medical field although she hasn’t yet settled on a specialty. She wants to serve in Rwanda where her family is sponsoring a boy, Irene Ntwari. “My parents inspired me, even through hard times they pulled me through,” she said when asked about her key mentors and influences. “They inspired me to accomplish as much as I possibly could.”

Overall Chang is grateful for the difficulties she faced. “My experiences and many obstacles have humbled me and made me grateful for everything I have,” she wrote.

Chang, who learned of La Sierra through her high school counselors, applied online. She also visited the campus and researched its service opportunities. “The more I found out, the more I fell in love with La Sierra,” she said. “I liked the fact that La Sierra has a very big focus on service. And everyone was so friendly it felt like a family rather than a school.”

La Sierra’s Enrollment Services department promotes the Presidential Scholars program during recruiting events at high schools and to high school seniors who have expressed an interest in the university. The Presidential Scholars program got underway in Fall 2008 with two award winners. It is promoted to high school seniors at Seventh-day Adventist schools, other private schools and public schools. Qualified applicants must have a high school grade point average of 3.6 or higher and demonstrate their dedication to improving the world around them. Upon admission to La Sierra, applicants must submit a curriculum vitae describing their accomplishments. They must also write an essay that details how they have strived to understand and serve the world around them and how such experiences have impacted them and as well as those they have helped.

The size of the applicant pool has variously ranged from 30 to 90 students. An Enrollment Services scholarship committee analyzes applicants’ curriculum vitae and essays to choose winners. Awardees are notified around the end of July or beginning of August.

In addition to Chang, there are currently six Presidential Scholars, all of who have received award renewals for the 2011-2012 school year. The awardees are Ashlee Sumilat, Molly Jackson, Kendall Trood, Kelli Kam, Sterling Spence, and Amanda Shultz. Chang was also accepted into the University Honors program this summer. Sumilat, Kam, Spence and Schultz are also Honors program students.

“We’re bringing in really top notch, service-oriented students who contribute to the campus and the local community,” said Lofthouse. “They set an example.”


PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University
Riverside, California
951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  September 07, 2011