Kodiak student earns more than $100,000 in scholarships

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Rafael Bitanga of Kodiak gives a whole new meaning to the word perseverance. He's one of two winners from the state of Alaska and one of 13,000 applicants to earn the $10,000 Live Mas Scholarship from the Taco Bell Foundation, and has earned more than $100,000 in scholarshpis total.

Kodiak student, Rafael Bitanga earns more than $100,000 in scholarship money and a full ride to Cornell University.

Bitanga is a Filipino-American and first-generation college student. His dad is a 30-year veteran of the fishing industry. It's also a big reason why he doesn't take his education for granted.

"My parents have selflessly traded comfort and rest for harsh physical labor to provide for my siblings and I. Being a first-generation college student just gives me the opportunity to find my own direction, rather than follow what my parents have," he said.

It was that sacrifice from his parents that inspired Bitanga's pursuit to fund his education through scholarships.

The Live Mas Scholarship is unique in that it doesn't reward based on academic merit or athletic ability, but rather a student's unique passion. In Bitanga's case, it's using the power of food to nourish people's body, mind and spirit.

In a special encounter with former First Lady Michelle Obama, she advised Bitanga to get an education because “it’s the one thing no one can take away from you.”

"If education wasn't in me I'm not sure what I would be doing," Bitanga said.

He's earned a full ride scholarship to Cornell University to study Hotel Administration. In total, Bitanga racked up $108,000 in scholarships.

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