‘We’re following God’s plan for our lives,’ La Sierra University students say.
Despite hectic schedules, three high school students in Redlands and Loma Linda, in California, United States, decided that helping disadvantaged individuals was worth putting in longer days.
Their decision and subsequent experiences serving others solidified their career interests in medicine. It was also one of the reasons the students were awarded the largest scholarship given by La Sierra University.
While enrolled at Redlands High School and Loma Linda Academy respectively, Ailinh Nguyen and twin brothers Grant and Tyler Yonemoto dedicated free time outside of demanding classes and extracurricular activities to aid local populations struggling with lack of adequate health care, homelessness, and other severe challenges. Following graduation, they enrolled last fall as freshmen biomedical sciences majors at La Sierra and are committed to continuing their community outreach during college while they focus on maintaining high grades.
Each of them was recognized as this year’s Presidential Scholars, receiving La Sierra’s largest scholarship, given once annually, which provides recipients with US$15,000 per year for four years toward tuition costs. Scholarship criteria include a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.6 and a demonstrated dedication on the part of applicants to improving the world around them. Students who have been admitted to La Sierra University and meet the GPA requirement must also submit a curriculum vitae describing their accomplishments and write an essay outlining how they have strived to understand and serve others, and how those experiences have helped to shape them and have impacted those they served.
Nguyen received the news about her Presidential Scholarship at the end of the 2019 school year during a 7:00 a.m. meeting at her high school with her parents and La Sierra vice president for enrollment services David Lofthouse.
“I remember trying to hold back the tears of immense joy and surprise at this miraculous announcement,” Nguyen said. “I am so ecstatic and humbled that La Sierra personally welcomed me to the school and presented me with this distinctive honor. I feel so blessed by God’s unconditional love.”
Nguyen has been a member of the Loma Linda Filipino Seventh-day Adventist Church most of her life and resides in Loma Linda with her parents and three dogs. Her career goal is to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist and work with underserved communities in southern California.
Nguyen graduated with a 4.39 GPA and throughout high school pursued activities in music and theater. She engaged in experiences that furthered her knowledge of medical science such as the White Coat Spring Break Internship program offering shadowing experiences with physicians and other medical professionals. She also engaged in scientific research through the Focused Interdisciplinary Research and Scientific Training at California Northstate University and attended a medical student poster session at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and conferences on teaching and STEM careers.
Nguyen’s many recognitions included an AP Scholar Award and Certificate of Achievement in Academics and Voluntary Service from Kiwanis International, as well as awards for speeches and dramatic interpretations. She has advocated with government and civic leaders on behalf of the arts in schools, summer school programs, peacemaking, and the plight of the homeless. Her varied involvement in community service included functioning as an Inland Health Professions Coalition student ambassador for Redlands. She facilitated plans for individual and group health service projects for residents. Her position provided a platform for relaying suggestions on various health-related topics to a Kaiser Permanente-sponsored focus group.
“By having had the privilege to volunteer in different settings within the underserved communities, I have been humbled by the life narratives of the disadvantaged men, women, and children struggling to exist,” she said. “They have inspired me to continue as one of the ‘thousand points of light’ for those in need and to focus on my studies so that I may apply my knowledge to help others lead better lives.”
The Yonemoto brothers, residents of Redlands, both aim to become physicians and to continue leading Urban Mission, LLC, which they co-founded. The mission provides clothing, health care, and food to homeless and disadvantaged populations through clothing donation events, fundraising, and collaboration with Loma Linda Academy, Path of Life Ministries in Riverside, civic organizations, and other groups. Urban Mission collects and distributes 5,000 articles of clothing annually and contributes donated funds for health care and food for the homeless.
The brothers also participated as volunteers in the Loma Linda Academy’s annual Family Volunteer Night aimed at providing aid to local homeless and low-income residents; served as leaders in Vacation Bible School summer programs for kids; and aided their peers as school tutors.
The Urban Mission got its start through Tyler and Grant’s interests as high school freshmen in finding ways of serving others.
“We have often heard about mission trips to places that are thousands of miles away. After thinking about how we could make an impact, we realized could make a difference right here in our community,” the brothers said.
They researched the needs of the homeless in their region and focused on the issues they could best impact, then began organizing donation events and collaboration with organizations. An initial distribution event of 5,000 donated clothing items proved an eye-opening experience for the young students and served as the impetus for forming Urban Mission. They and a team of volunteers brought some of the clothing to a family shelter and watched excited children select items for themselves and their families.
“Seeing people with almost nothing smile and get such joy and love from receiving just a few articles of clothing touched me and called me to continue this mission work,” Grant wrote in an essay for the Presidential Scholarship.
In addition to earning As in all their coursework and receiving multiple academic awards, the brothers’ achievements included student government leadership; taking advanced courses such as pre-engineering and technology; pursuing an independent research project at the California Proton Center; earning awards of excellence from the National Academy of Future Physicians; and National Merit commendations. Both were members of their academy’s soccer team and the wind symphony and symphony orchestra; and they pursued National Honor Society activities. Both took La Sierra University college courses in their senior year of high school.
With challenging courses, student leadership, sports and music commitments, extracurricular projects, peer tutoring, and Urban Mission, time management became a challenge for the duo. “The time I found was an hour or two of downtime that I would spend watching TV or playing video games, so I decided to remove those aspects out of my schedule,” Tyler said. Grant noted that the long, busy days helped him develop “fortitude” and taught him self-motivation to study for tests and complete assignments.
The brothers cite their mother, a hospital and health-care administrator, as their chief role model, and their father, a physician specializing in cancer treatment, as a significant influence in their career choice.
They also cited the influence of John Thomas, dean of La Sierra University’s Zapara School of Business, in inspiring them to pursue well-rounded lives and to be properly prepared for the complexities of the health care environment with knowledge in business. The brothers are also pursuing minors in business management.
Their decisions for careers in medicine were solidified through their pivotal experiences with Urban Mission, the brothers said. They are both committed to continue leading the organization during college and beyond as they pursue medical school.
“We will continue with our mission work, not just because we see the joy and hope within those we serve,” Tyler stated. “We are following God’s plan for our lives.”