Above, from left, Bell High School Principal Rafael Balderas, students Ailene Torres, Beatrice Castillo and Magnet Coordinator Mario Apodaca.

Gates Scholarship winners Beatrice Castillo, left, and Ailene Torres are stellar graduates of Bell High School’s STEM Magnet.

The tweet that Principal Rafael L. Balderas posted about two of his graduates read like a message a proud parent would write:

“So proud of @bellhighschool Gifted STEM Magnet Scholars Beatrice Castillo @Harvard bound & Ailene Torres @Columbia bound who were awarded the Gates Scholarship!”

The graduates of Bell’s gifted/highly gifted STEM Magnet are among 300 exceptional students nationwide to receive a Gates Scholarship. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation introduced the scholarship this year to support Hispanic students who qualify for financial aid.

“It is with pride and joy that I was able to serve as principal to both Beatrice and Aileen for the last four years,” Balderas said. “They are remarkable and intelligent young women who will make an impact at both Columbia and Harvard. After graduation, I am more than confident these young scholars will move mountains, change the current landscape and, more importantly, change the world.”

Castillo will be the first in her family to go to college when she heads off to Harvard. Neither of her parents finished high school, and she learned to rely on her grandfather for encouragement, listening closely during his calls from Mexico as he insisted that she could achieve a higher education. She dove into the STEM program at Bell, joined school leadership and pursued community activities. With guidance from Bell’s magnet coordinator, Mario Apodaca, Beatrice decided she wants to become an environmental science researcher and help others understand global warming.

“Beatrice has a keen mind and a strong sense of self. She puts her whole heart into learning as much as she can each and every day,” Apodaca said.  “Her passion for the things she believes in will lead her to the halls of the House and Senate in Washington, D.C.”

The magnet coordinator also worked with another senior Ailene Torres, who will attend Columbia University in New York, where she plans to major in mechanical engineering.

“Ailene is a driven and fierce competitor,” Apodaca said. “She wants to be the best and is persistent in reaching all of the impressive goals she sets for herself.  Someday, I expect to read about Ailene’s work at NASA, JPL, or SpaceX.”

Ailene is inspired by her mother, who works in the Garment District, her fingers dyed blue as she makes the $250 designer jeans that neither of them can afford.

“Those blue fingers and the labor behind them drive me to be the best student I can be,” Ailene wrote in her college application. “There’s no question that my mother has taught me the importance of hard work. Following her example, I have sacrificed sleep and pushed myself everyday through the rigors of my AP classes to keep my grades up. Her words and actions showed me that she wanted to provide me with opportunities that were never available to her.”

Apodaca said the success of Beatrice and Ailene reflects the school’s efforts to foster the skills and talent of all of their students.

“Both are great young women who have fantastic opportunities and futures ahead of them,” he said. “As the magnet coordinator, I would like to be depicted as being a part of the school’s support system executing the mission of the Bell High School Gifted STEM Magnet.”