Five Colorado students are $50,000 richer in college tuition thanks to COVID vaccine scholarship incentive

Five Colorado students are now $50,000 closer to their higher education dreams thanks to a state program offering scholarships to 25 randomly selected young people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The scholarship program, an offshoot of the state’s Colorado Comeback Cash giveaway, is another incentivized push to encourage Colorado residents to receive their COVID-19 inoculation.

The winners announced during a Thursday virtual news conference are Natalie M. of Centennial, 14-year-old Arianna Garcia of Longmont, 15-year-old Liam Atkins of Boulder, 16-year-old Brett Cheney of Mesa County, and 14-year-old Gabriella Sleight of Littleton.

Thomas M., of Steamboat Springs, was chosen but declined the prize because an academic scholarship and help from his grandparents already will cover his tuition at Clarkson University in the fall, where he plans to study engineering.

“I wanted to pass it on to someone who needed it a bit more than me,” Thomas said during the news conference.

State officials did not release full names or ages for some of the winners.

The scholarship winners, many in the early stages of high school, discussed their interests and the fields the prize money may help them study.

Natalie wants to be a dentist. Garcia, an aspiring first-generation college student, is interested in pursuing American Sign Language translation.

“Receiving the scholarship is not only helping me further my education after high school, but relieving some financial burden off my family’s shoulders,” Garcia said. “It’s more time to focus on my studies and learning rather than learning about debt.”

Atkins and Cheney said the vaccine will help them get their favorite parts of teenage life back — socializing with friends, playing sports, attending school in-person and feeling a little more back-to-normal.

“I’m excited that I can go out with friends now, and they feel safer and everyone around me feels safer because of the COVID vaccine,” Cheney said. “I’m hoping that because I’m vaccinated, more people will go out and get some. Maybe I’ll inspire them.”

Sleight overcame her fear of needles to receive her vaccine and encouraged folks who harbor the same phobia to weigh the pros and cons of the shot in their mind.

“It didn’t hurt very much, and the needle was small,” Sleight said.

To be eligible to win the new scholarships, students must be Colorado residents between the ages of 12 and 17 and have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Jared Polis said.

The state will choose five winners every week through July 9, Polis said.

The money will be placed in the winning students’ CollegeInvest funds, where it will be invested and earn more money over time. The money can be used for in-state or out-of-state colleges and universities, as well as technical, occupational or credential programs, Polis said.

There is no need to sign up or register for the drawings, Polis said, and everyone who has been inoculated since the vaccines first arrived in Colorado in December is eligible. Coloradans can look up their COVID-19 vaccination records using the Colorado Immunization Information System database.

Money for the cash and scholarship prizes in the Colorado Comeback Cash program comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

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