Scholarship Questions — MSU Presidential Scholarship

Aaron Santa Cruz
6 min readDec 1, 2020


I published these to provide examples


Question: Describe how you intend to combine your academic interests, collegiate extracurricular activities, and your own personal strengths towards your development as a scholar and a leader at Montana State University and beyond.

Answer: I have lived in many places throughout Montana, and have realized that there are very few opportunities to learn STEAM. However, since 6th grade, I have been extremely passionate about STEAM. Since then, I have completed the offered high school computer science classes. I have also taken college classes outside of middle and high school. In my free time, I program and participate in hackathons to further my knowledge in computer science. In middle school, I was a part of a FIRST FLL team, and in 7th grade, we won the award for our project on recycling. This bolstered my passion for STEAM. In high school I joined Missoula’s FIRST FRC team (the only team in Montana), of which I am still a part. Ever since becoming a member of the robotics team, I have been a part of the programming and business subteams. I have learned a multitude of soft skills and many hands on skills. I will carry many of these with me throughout life. Although I have failed many times on the team, I have used these opportunities to grow from it, and am now the Programming Lead and part of the leadership team. I plan to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science (at the minimum) at MSU. I would also like to earn a secondary teaching degree and teach middle and high school STEAM (or computer science/technology) classes in Montana, where there are few opportunities to learn computer science.

Question: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?

I am the lead programmer on a FIRST FRC robotics team. Much of the work that we do is hands-on, and COVID-19 is making it difficult to meet and engage with the team. I have been a member of the team for the past three years, but now I am unable to participate in person because a family member has pre-existing health conditions. That has made it more difficult to communicate and contribute to the team.

Question: Discuss how your view of yourself and your world have been expanded as the result of exposure to a book, story or experience and explain why?

Answer: I enjoy reading books about philosophy. One recent book I indulged in was Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The book discusses evolution of the human kind. There are many points in the book that have expanded my view of the world, such as why we are who we are, and why we act the way we act. We are evolutionary creatures, and we adapt to our environment. Many important examples in the book are still relevant today. One of the important examples is that we are social creatures, and that we need people to survive. We communicate with and provide for one another, and we act in a social contract. This definitely conflicted with my personal belief that I don’t need to be very social. Homo Sapiens cannot be isolated for long periods of time, and we see the effects of this problem during the current pandemic. Many problems that we face today are problems humans have experienced in the past, but many of them are just in a different context. I also learned that I am a Homo Sapien, you are a Homo Sapien, we are all Homo Sapiens. I am you, you are me, we are all. The only thing that’s different is what I have experienced in life. My view of myself has also changed. Through my experiences, I have realized that I need to be more social, more active, and more human.

Question: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Answer: My robotics team has always had a problem of keeping track of member contributions. Our team has requirements for traveling and lettering. My junior year, I built an attendance tracker that used a barcode scanner to scan a student’s ID and keep track of attendance, as this was a big factor of member contributions. However, after months of using it, the entire database was hacked; we lost hundreds (maybe thousands) of entries in our database. Unfortunately, we did not have a backup of the data and I had to announce to the whole team that a system I built was infiltrated. This took a large toll on my mental well-being; I was so irritated and frustrated. Since then I have been able to recuperate my thoughts in a positive way, and I began to learn from my mistakes. One resource that we had were the server logs, and we were able to figure out how our system was penetrated. I spent time researching the attack, and learned how to prevent that situation. This year we needed a new system, so my friend and I created a completely new and innovative solution. Instead of keeping track of just attendance, it tracks all of the activities that students do to benefit our team throughout the season, and also provides an overview of the season. I took classes on databases and cybersecurity, and learned how to prevent a multitude of potential problems. We secured the system as much as possible (all while referencing our notes from last year’s attack), and also created a backup system of the server data. We have included substantial safeguards to hopefully prevent a repeat of last year’s hack. I learned how a variety of things can go wrong that you might not imagine, and that you need to learn what happened and how to fix it, and use that solution in the new system. Additionally, when creating the new activities tracker for our team, I also was able to improve my skill set by creating the system in a much more professional way.

Question: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Answer: As I mentioned, I love reading books about philosophy, and I have recently read the book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The book mentioned that communication is vital to Homo Sapiens, and that we are social creatures. We communicate within a social contract. This challenged my belief that I would not need others, and that I could survive without the comfort of others. I have always thought that I can just sit alone, do my work, make money and survive. Once I read this book, I learned that is not how I am supposed to work, how all of us are supposed to work. I need to get out, have fun, and spend more time with people and my community. I never thought that is what I should do; it was just never “my thing”. My parents always wondered why I was not more social, and now I wonder the same thing. I always felt like I should only do things that would benefit me in the future, such as taking more challenging classes, and taking college classes. I thought that if I did all of the hard work now, I could have a more leisurely time in the future. Since reading this book, I have been trying to become more social. I’ve been trying to make more friends, hang out more, and get involved in my community more. Unfortunately, the year I was really going to try and get out, COVID-19 came about and ruined many of my ambitions. I plan to try and be very social in college, and grow my network of people. It’s time to restart my communication and social engine.

Note: There are provided to serve as examples for anyone who wishes. These are my responses, and I have already submitted my application. The application closes on December 4th.