Skip to main content
portrait of Maria Lachino in front of white wall

Determination and excellence: The making of a Presidential Scholar

By Srila Nayak

Maria Lachino Sonato, first-year chemistry student

One day in March, Hood River resident and then-high school senior Maria Lachino Sonato was getting ready for a campus visit at a community college when her teacher called. She told Lachino Sonato that it was more important for her to come to school instead and suggested that she may not need to go on the community college tour after all. Lachino Sonato would soon find out why.

The oldest of three children of farm workers who immigrated from Mexico, Lachino Sonato had often worried about how she and her parents would be able to afford her college tuition. Driven by personal circumstances and fierce ambition, she had worked hard in high school attaining perfect grades and enrolling in as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible. Now as the time for a decision about her future drew to a close, Lachino Sonato was hoping her efforts would bear fruit.

During school lunch break, she was ushered into a room where an Oregon State University admissions officer greeted her with a cake and the happy news that she had received an OSU Presidential Scholarship.

A weight lifted from Lachino Sonato’s shoulders when she realized she would be able to pursue her dreams of a science education at a distinguished research university. Her parents, who were also present for the celebration, couldn’t have been happier and prouder of their daughter’s achievement. She would be the first in the family to attend college.

“They were delighted that I had been recognized and was being offered this big help to go to college,” said Lachino Sonato, now a first-year Honors College chemistry student at OSU.

OSU’s most prestigious award, the Presidential Scholarship is awarded to the highest-caliber high school seniors in Oregon with a record of academic excellence (3.85 GPA or above plus impressive SAT or ACT scores) among other accomplishments. In 2017, 34 OSU students, including nine College of Science students, received a Presidential Scholarship. At $10,000-per-year, the Presidential Scholarship provides $40,000 for students’ undergraduate education.

Lachino Sonato was also awarded the Ford Family Foundation Scholarship which meets 90 percent of her financial need, making it possible for her to focus on academics at OSU and graduate debt-free.

She fell in love with OSU as soon as she visited campus for a week-long program of the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute (OMLI). OMLI develops leadership skills in Oregon’s high school migrant students and exposes participants to college life.

“I had a lot of fun on that trip and that experience led me to have very positive feelings about OSU. That’s also when I started thinking about going to college,” Lachino Sonato said.

Deeply in love with academics, Lachino Sonato’s zest for studying advanced science courses continues undimmed in college. She is currently in the Advanced Chemistry track where she will study the most rigorous chemistry courses and gain extensive research experience by the time she graduates. Mathematics has always been a favorite with the chemistry major. Having taken a number of advanced mathematics classes in high school, she has naturally veered toward a minor in mathematics.

She has begun undergraduate research in electrochemistry in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. Lachino Sonato was one of a select group of students with AP or college credits who were encouraged by the chemistry department to join a research lab. Active in the OSU STEM Leaders program on campus, Lachino Sonato aspires to thrive in research and academics to have the best possible educational experience at OSU.