Presidential Scholars Look Ahead

As the first cohort of Presidential Scholarship recipients finish their time at the UW, we check in with them about their journey and plans for the future.

UW student with "I love UW" sign

Khushi Chaudhari, ’22, part of the first cohort of Presidential Scholars

Imagine you’re in your high school math class waiting to hear back about your college applications, wondering if higher education is even within reach for you and your family. As class ends and you’re chatting with friends, you look down at your phone and see a missed call and a flurry of texts from your mom.

“You got into UW! You got into UW CS! Congratulations!”

Then, a bigger surprise: She sends you a photo of an ornate gift box from the University of Washington announcing your selection as a Presidential Scholar. Nearly all of your tuition will be covered by the scholarship.

That was the experience of Khushi Chaudhari, ’22, when she learned that she was one of the first to receive the UW Presidential Scholarship, a special program launched in 2018 thanks to a founding endowment from William and Pamela Ayer, to recognize outstanding Washington state applicants to the UW who are already leaders in their communities.

The Presidential Scholarship Package

Recipients are notified with a special package and a letter from President Cauce.

There is no application for the Presidential Scholarship; all Washington state students who apply to the UW are considered for it. Applicants are selected because they’ve taken the initiative to help make a difference in their communities, finding ways to serve those with whom they live, learn, worship or work — for instance, encouraging girls to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and math; organizing events for children at a local mosque; serving on a school board; even working to find a cure for cancer. The program is “need-blind,” awarded to students who are living the values of commitment to community and service to others.

In recognition of their outstanding contributions and talents, Presidential Scholars receive $10,000 per year for up to four years, covering nearly all costs for tuition. Over their time at the UW, they participate in a customized leadership and mentorship program, culminating in a Husky Leadership Certificate.

We caught up with some of the inaugural Presidential Scholarship recipients, to hear how their Husky Experience has been and what they’ll look back on as they finish their time at the UW.

Jessica Moreno

Jessica Moreno, ’21: “It was a dream to attend the UW.”

Jessica Moreno

Class of ’21

  • Hometown: Wapato, WA
  • Majors: Education, communities and organizations (ECO) and sociology

How did you choose to apply to the UW?

I had wanted to attend the UW since I was like 9 years old. I remember visiting the campus when my older cousin went there, and I knew I wanted to go there. It was a dream to attend the UW, and I made sure to do everything I could to make it my reality.

What advice would you give to a new UW student?

To fully be yourself, take the time to get to know yourself and never be ashamed of who you are — you are unique and amazing in your very own way! Also, enjoy every moment of it. Yes, there are very stressful moments, but they are all truly worth it.

Read more about Jessica

Study abroad, favorite UW class & more

Think back to when you received the Presidential Scholarship. What was that moment like?

I actually found out that I received the scholarship before I even received the news that I had been accepted to the UW. Once I got home, I knew what the package waiting for me was for! I was so excited to have been accepted to UW along with this scholarship. This has really made the experience less stressful and has allowed me to have opportunities I did not think I would have!

What was your favorite class at the UW?

My favorite class was Education 251 [Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity].

Was there a faculty or staff member that you especially connected with?  How did they influence your experience?

One of the faculty members I was able to connect with was Luz Iñiguez, who was working with CAMP [College Assistance Migrant Program] my freshman year. I was unsure what degree or job I wanted to pursue, and I remember having this conversation with her, sitting on the bench outside Mary Gates Hall. She helped me realize what I wanted to do and the impact I wanted to have on students.

What was a favorite nonacademic experience at the UW?

Getting to learn so much about myself and growing as a person overall. Also, studying abroad! I had the opportunity to study abroad twice, in Spain and Italy! These were experiences that I am so grateful for. I have also really enjoyed being a part of Unidas Seremos, in which I have had the opportunity to meet so many amazing young women and participate in many events.

What will your life look like after graduation?

I will be pursuing a master’s degree in higher education at Northern Arizona University and hopefully obtain an adviser job at a university close to home.

Jessica Moreno and her family

Jessica Moreno and her family

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would not be here or anywhere close to it if not for my family, who has always been here for me and provided such a strong support system throughout my educational experience. They really believed in me and encouraged me to never give up, and because of that, I am graduating. Everything I do is truly for them. I love them all so much!

Ruth Mulugeta

Ruth Mulugeta, ’22: “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

Ruth Mulugeta

Class of ’22

  • Hometown: Seattle, WA
  • Major: Molecular, cellular & developmental biology

Think back to when you received the Presidential Scholarship. What was that moment like?

It was funny, I had just got home from softball practice and my mom asked if I ordered anything from Amazon. I was confused about what it could be, because at the time I had around $2.38 in my bank account. I picked up the package and took it to my room to open it. When I read it, I started screaming, which scared my family — especially my mother, who fainted. (She was fine, though.) After, my family was just full of joy for me and blessed me.

Advice you’d give to a new UW student?

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new! College is a time to explore and really start to understand who you are as a person. So take the time to see what you like and don’t like before it’s time to be a full-fledged adult.

Read more about Ruth

An adviser who made a difference, life after graduation & more

Favorite class at the UW?

Biology 220 [Introductory Biology]. It was physiology, and it was pretty difficult, but it pushed me to want to know more about the human body. I was really into every topic we learned about. Our professor did a good job at finding new ways to push our thinking while making the class enjoyable.

Staff or faculty member you especially connected with?

My favorite had to be Kendrick Wilson from the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity counseling center. … I had a rough start, dealing with mental health and family, and he was always there to answer my questions and help me figure out what path I need to take to succeed at the UW. He made my freshman experience so much better and helped me balance school and life.

Ruth at a Husky game with Harry the Husky

Ruth and friends showing their Husky spirit.

Where was your favorite study spot on campus before the pandemic?

Has to be the Instructional Center. I met a lot of my best friends there, and the tutors were always so helpful. After a while, it became my home.

Favorite nonacademic experience at the UW?

Being on the board of the Black Student Union. I was able to grow so much as a person and had the chance to meet so many great people along the way.

What will your life look like after graduation?

I plan on taking a year off before medical school. I plan to use that year to travel and work as a CNA [certified nursing assistant] to get a bit more clinical experience.

Khushi Chaudhari

Khushi Chaudhari, ’22: “I really understood the amount of thought that professors put in.”

Khushi Chaudhari

Class of ’22

  • Hometown: Redmond, WA
  • Major: Computer science

Did you have a favorite UW professor?

Hunter Schafer, assistant teaching professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering … The way he taught the material was very understandable. And later, I was a T.A. for him for a couple quarters, and it was nice to know that he really cares for his students. Working with him, I really understood the amount of thought that professors put in. Even if things were fine the previous quarter, they’re still looking for things to change and finding ways for their students to engage with material and understand it better.

If you could invite anyone, living or historical, to dinner, who would it be?

Michelle Obama, because I read her book “Becoming” recently, and it was really interesting how she described her upbringing and meeting Barack Obama, and the difference between the way she led her life and Barack led his life … the entire journey was very inspiring. I’d want to talk to her about her experiences and learn.

Read more about Khushi

Time travel, life after graduation & more

Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering

The Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering

Favorite campus study spot?

In the new CSE building, so CSE2, if you go up to the third floor, there’s a spot at the end of the hallway where there’s three tables and it overlooks the IMA, and you can see the bridge and the water and everything. It’s super nice. It’s usually very empty, too, so it’s a great spot to just sit and study.

If you could travel through time, when and where would you go?

I would travel to the future in the United States, like 500 years down, just to see what has happened. Is the Earth still alive? Has climate change completely destroyed us? There’s been so many changes in the past 100 years, it’s got to be crazy in the next 500, so it’d be interesting to see what happened … It’d be nice to not have poverty, it’d be nice to have climate change taken care of.

What will your life look like after graduation?

I have an internship at Microsoft lined up for the summer and Facebook this coming fall. I’ll be taking a quarter off from school, and the hope is to get a return offer from one of those companies, and then that would be my full-time job. Of course, hoping for that return offer, but I’m still going to be applying for jobs come August.

Abdullah Mohammad

Abdullah Mohammad, ’20: “I could really focus on getting the most out of my college experience.”

Abdullah Mohammad

Class of ’20

  • Hometown: Redmond, WA
  • Major: Computer science

How did the scholarship affect you or others in your life?

For my parents, it was easier for them financially, and for my siblings, it was encouraging and motivating for them to also come to the UW, to try hard to get into a good college.

Favorite nonacademic experience at the UW?

This Presidential Scholarship, our cohort … I loved our meetings. It was a great time for me to pause and really assess the things I’m doing at college, and outside of college as well — not for the resume or for what other people look at, but for myself and how I’m benefiting from them.

Read more about Abdullah

The book everyone should read, advice for new Huskies & more

Abdullah Mohammad

Think back to when you received the Presidential Scholarship. What was that moment like?

Oh, it was definitely surreal. One of the most worrisome things for me going into college, what I was most anxious about, was paying for college. I was applying to scholarships wherever I could find them. I was thinking about, how am I going to manage a part-time job with my classes. The scholarship made me not have to worry about having to work. It took care of the financial aspect so I didn’t have to worry about that; I could really focus on getting the most out of my college experience. It was a lifesaver for me.

Favorite UW professor?

Justin Hsia was a professor for two of my CS [computer science] classes. I really liked his classes and his teaching style, but what really stood out to me was his commitment to his students. He was always trying new things and was always available in his office hours.

One book you think everyone should read?

The Quran. That’s something I take a lot of inspiration from. Regardless of what religion you follow, just being able to read that, I think, is a great experience. I think anybody, regardless of where they come from, can take something beneficial from it. Being able to memorize it at a young age had a great impact on my education and everything that I’ve done.

One movie you never get tired of watching?

I just recently watched “Godzilla vs. Kong.” It was great. I’m a big Godzilla fan.

Advice you’d give to a new UW student?

You come in and it’s a whirlwind of seeing so many people doing so many different things, and you just try to grab and choose: “I want to do that. I want to do that.”… Before you know it, you’re overworking yourself. I would tell a new student to really focus on what’s better for yourself. … Quality is much better than quantity. A lot of people try to do so many different things, but it’s not going to be a wholesome experience if you’re doing it for the resume and not for yourself.

What has your life looked like since graduation?

I did an internship last year, in the summer, at Amazon. After I graduated, I joined Microsoft for a full-time position, so that’s what I’m doing right now.

Originally published July 2021

All Washington state students are considered for the Presidential Scholarship when they apply to the UW. A wide variety of other scholarships and types of financial aid are available through the Office of Student Financial Aid and UW colleges and academic departments.

Originally published July 2021

What you care about can change the world

When you support the Presidential Scholarship, you ensure that students already making a difference in the world can further their education at UW.