Hueneme senior wins $180K NROTC scholarship

Vanessa Prado is on the training.
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© Stephen Osman/VC Star
Vanessa Prado leads Hueneme High School's Junior ROTC armed drill team during an after-school exercise. © Stephen Osman/VC Star

When she found out she’d been awarded a four-year, $180,000 Navy ROTC scholarship, Vanessa Prado of Port Hueneme felt like she’d won the lottery.

Her stepfather, Peter Kim, said the scholarship is better than winning the lottery.

“This is the first step in the rest of her life, and because of it she’s going to be able to do what she wants to do.”

Prado, 18, a senior at Hueneme High School, learned in late January that she had earned the scholarship.

The commanding officer of the Hueneme High School Navy Junior ROTC unit, Prado didn’t think she was going to get it. To qualify for a Navy ROTC scholarship, a student must meet a variety of academic standards, including a GPA of at least 3.0 and minimum SAT or ACT standardized college preparation scores. Prado, despite two tries, was unable to hit the SAT minimum. So she applied for an Alternate Scholarship Reservation.

“This scholarship is for students who barely miss meeting those minimum standards, but they’ve shown outstanding leadership, athletic involvement and community service in all of their activities,” said retired Navy Cmdr. John Mills, who teaches Navy ROTC at Hueneme High School. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years and she’s in the top three of all the students I have taught. She has those leadership skills necessary for the Navy in the 21st century. She leads by example and never complains.”

Prado said she hopes to attend Norwich University, a military college in Northfield, Vt., although she has yet to hear back from the school. Her second choice is North Carolina State University. The NROTC scholarship covers tuition costs; it also provides money for all additional educational and lab fees, a stipend for textbooks and a subsistence allowance for each academic month, ranging from $250 for freshmen to $400 for seniors.

Mills explained that Prado was one of nine or 10 students in the Southern California-Arizona area chosen to receive the scholarship out of more than 30 applicants.

“It’s a big deal,” he said, adding that Prado was selected because of her extraordinary leadership qualities, community service, athletic involvement and her work at the family business, Beachport Cleaners.

Nationwide, about 300 students applied and 110 scholarships were awarded, said Cmdr. Ken Liles, manager of the Navy Junior ROTC Area 11.

Prado’s mother, Sonia Kim, said that without the scholarship, her daughter would have probably attended community college before going on to a four-year university. Kim said that her older daughter, Viviana Prado, 20, went to Ventura College and is now at California State University, Channel Islands, studying psychology.

But for Vanessa Prado, the opportunity to be able to pursue her dream of a career in naval aviation will be facilitated by going through a four-year university program. “In 10 years, I see taking off of an aircraft carrier,” Prado said.

Her younger half-brother Samuel Kim, 13, has already expressed a desire to follow in his older sister’s footsteps. “He’s popular at the ROTC. They call him Lil’ Kim because he helps out so much,” Prado said.

Mills said Prado is the perfect example of a student the Alternate Scholarship Reservation targets. She has been involved with numerous community service efforts and has received several awards and honors.

“We helped with the Strawberry Festival and a bicycle safety rodeo with the Port Hueneme police. I used to be in a color guard with the Eagle Corps and we would do color guards around the Thousand Oaks area,” Prado said.

She also spends up to four hours each day organizing her 120-member Navy ROTC unit and participating in other activities. Prado is a member of the school’s water polo and swim teams, and she’s the president of the Hueneme High School Student to Student Program, which helps new students at the school.

“If she says ‘I’m going to do it,’ she’s going to do it. I always taught her whatever you start, you have to finish. We do a lot for the community through our business and I think she gets that from me,” Sonia Kim said.

Peter Kim said, “She always takes everything as a challenge. Even after she joined the ROTC, it just pushed her to do more.”

“I wanted to be commanding officer in my freshman year and by junior year, I was second in command,” Prado said.

Mills said he believes Prado has a bright future in the Navy.

“She’s extremely good in motivating others into moving. She’s a very patriotic individual, very hardworking. I’ve never had a high school student as good at teaching other students,” he said.

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