While many new college freshmen were enjoying summer break, Leslye Alvarez Valencia took a calculus class at Fresno State. “Why not get a head start?” she said with a smile.

Such is her nature, working hard in school to make her parents proud and to prepare herself for success. She’s seen her parents struggle. Valencia was born in Colima, Mexico and came to the United States at age 4 with her parents. Her mother only attended school through the eighth grade and her father stopped going after third.

“I don’t want to be struggling, and I want to be able to help my parents,” Valencia said.

Her hard work paid off when she graduated in June as valedictorian of Dinuba High School and became the first in her family to go to college. Now, she can add Fresno State honors scholar to her list of accomplishments.

Valencia is one of 50 high-achieving high school graduates in this year’s 20th class of President’s Honors Scholars in the Smittcamp Family Honors College, established in 1998 with a $1 million gift from the late Earl and Muriel Smittcamp. The couple were founders of a prominent agribusiness and longtime supporters of Fresno State.

The honors college is unique in the California State University system. Scholars are admitted as a cohort and take a series of specially-designed honors courses. They participate in weekly seminars with guest speakers and in educational, scholarly and social activities. Each student receives a scholarship for his or her undergraduate degree program, up to a maximum of eight semesters. The scholarship covers in-state tuition and an optional credit for University housing.

The freshmen were selected from a pool of more than 500 applicants, said Dr. Saeed Attar, director of the honors college. Over its 20-year history, the college has reviewed 10,534 applications and admitted 1,082 students. Applicants must score 1200 or above on the SAT (or 27 or above on the ACT), be in the upper 10 percent of their graduating class, or have a minimum 3.8 GPA in grades 9 through 11.

The scholars are required to volunteer or perform a minimum of 70 hours of community service through their junior years. Students must also enroll in at least 12 units and earn a minimum 3.25 GPA in both their first two years followed by a minimum 3.5 GPA in their third and fourth years.

More than 90 percent of the scholars graduate in four years, mostly with summa cum laude (a 3.9 GPA or higher) or magna cum laude (a 3.7 GPA or higher). Fifty-five percent of the honors college alumni continue to live in the Central Valley contributing to the community and the economy, Attar said.

Valencia was excited and relieved to receive her congratulatory letter. The Smittcamp scholarship made her school choice easier. Fresno State was one of three she considered attending.

“I felt like I was going to be prioritized with Smittcamp,” said Valencia, a biology major.

And she was grateful to receive a scholarship.

“When students get out of college they’re always talking about being so in debt. I don’t want to be constantly worried,” she said. “With the Smittcamp scholarship, I’ll be secure and better off financially than going off to another college.”

Fellow scholar Parker Fritsch, a Buchanan High School graduate from Clovis, is thankful for the help too. He’s a cancer survivor, diagnosed at age 2 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but still has other medical issues as an adult. Fritsch spent part of his summer as a counselor at Camp Sunshine Dreams, a camp at Huntington Lake for children with cancer.

“I’ve got bills to pay, medications to pay for,” Fritsch jokes. “They estimate that I’m the $2 million child. My insurance doesn’t like me very much.”

Fritsch, whose parents, grandparents and other family members are Fresno State alumni, almost decided to attend Texas Christian University, but he received the Smittcamp scholarship letter and flipped his plans.

“It was a good flip. It’s definitely going to make my life a lot easier in the end,” said Fritsch, a biochemistry major. “I’m really appreciative. Only 50 students are eligible for it each year. It’s a huge deal to be given the opportunity.”

The 2018 cohort of President’s Scholars and their high schools are:

Lady Liannie Abangan (University High School)
Montaser Ahmad (Clovis West)
Tanzila Alam (Clovis North)
Leslye Alvarez Valencia (Dinuba)
Jaclyn Aquino (Hanford)
Audrey Baumheckel (Clovis)
Robert Cordova (Kingsburg)
Joseph Costa (Los Banos)
Samantha D’Alessio (Design Science Middle College, Fresno)
Lauren Davis (El Diamante, Visalia)
Alea Droker (Rancho Cotate, Rohnert Park)
Madison Firstman (Golden West, Visalia)
Sydney Fox (Buchanan)
Parker Fritsch (Buchanan)
Segen Ghebrendrias (Clovis North)
Sumanjit Gill (Edison)
Christina Gonzales (Joseph A. Gregori, Modesto)
Lauren Heard (Central East)
Elise Higgs (Clovis West)
Harleen Kaur (Sunnyside)
Maram Kiran (Clovis North)
Ann Kreuscher (Buhach Colony, Atwater)
Devon Lee (Visalia Technical Early College)
Yimeng Li (Clovis)
Nolan Long (Clovis North)
Adriana Lopez (Golden West, Visalia)
Noah Martinez (Clovis East)
Hannah Mitchell (Selma)
Kelsey Montalto (Yosemite)
Nicholas Moore (Buchanan)
Asher Morley (Exeter Union)
Sean Mount (Clovis North)
Emily Nieman (Buchanan)
Jenna Perez (El Diamante, Visalia)
Alan Pham (Clovis North)
Andrea Poole (Hallmark Charter, Sanger)
Sydney Puente (Clovis)
Sagar Pyreddy (Clovis North)
Katelyn Reeves (Clovis)
Christian Reta (Clovis North)
Abigail Schofield (Central West)
Jennifer Siechert (Clovis)
Juliana Sullivan (Sierra, Tollhouse)
Lindsey Swall (Mission Oak, Tulare)
Emily Varney (Buchanan)
Maria Elena Ventura Chavez (Fowler)
Ariana Wafer (San Joaquin Memorial)
Aniela Whitaker (University)
Robert Wong (University)
Kaelyn Xiong (Clovis East)

For more information on the Smittcamp Family Honors College, visit www.www.fresnostate.edu/academics/honors.