SLO High School student’s hard work pays off

A San Luis Obispo High School senior will attend a prestigious New York engineering school — and live there — for free.

Jesse Castaneda’s perseverance and dedication recently paid off. In addition to a full four-year scholarship to Cooper Union in lower Manhattan, he recently received a $100,000 Proton Energy Scholarship that will pay for his living expenses.

The private college, which offers a full scholarship valued at more than $140,000 to its students, is dedicated to professions of architecture, art and engineering.

In 2009, more than 3,300 students applied to Cooper and only 249 students, or 7 percent, were admitted.

The cost of living at Cooper Union is estimated to be about $18,000 a year.

Jesse, who has a 4.4 grade-point average, plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and eventually work in nanotechnology research or aeronautics.

For much of his four years of high school, he took regional occupation program classes in drafting and engineering — a passion he attributes to his dad, Francisco Castaneda, who is a civil engineer.

Jesse said he was inspired by his involvement in the SkillsUSA competitions, something he was encouraged to participate in by his mentor, Tim Fay, a San Luis Obispo High School industrial arts teacher.

Jesse, who lives in Morro Bay, spent hours preparing the application for the Proton Energy Scholarship.

He was one of 10 finalists selected from more than 500 students nationwide. In a surprise move, all 10 of the finalists were given the scholarship by entrepreneur Tom Sullivan.

“We went crazy,” Jesse said. “I could hear my mom scream in the crowd. It was radiant.”

Mother Anita Lutz couldn’t be more proud.

Her son, she said, has a focused intent and has worked hard throughout high school.

“I wanted him to experience the world,” Lutz said. “New York is a lot farther than I expected, but it (Cooper Union) is a small community within a huge city. We’ve raised him to be self-reliant, and it is going to be great for him. But we are going to miss him in a big way.”

Jesse said he is ready for a new challenge.

“Eighteen years is a long time to spend in one place,” he said. “I’m craving a change and looking for adventure.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.