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Alaska teen wins $180,000 college scholarship from Marines

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 6:02 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A Fairbanks high school student won an $180,000 scholarship from the U.S. Marine Corps. Warner Mentch is a senior at Hutchison High School and won the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) Scholarship after he learned of the opportunity from his Marine recruiter, Gunnery Sergeant James Robinson. Mentch is the first high schooler from Fairbanks to win the scholarship in over a decade.

According to Robinson he was doing routine cold calls when he reached Mentch the first time.

“It was just a random cold call one day and he initially spoke to me and was like, ‘yeah I’ll be interested in hearing about it but that is not my first choice of what I want to do,’” Robinson said.

Mentch said that his parents were initially against the idea, “It was through one of those calls where I ended up going in out of curiosity because my parents where absolutely against the idea of enlistment.”

After talking with the recruiter Mentch said he learned of the NROTC scholarship.

“He told me his first option was to go to college and even though I am a recruiter, I kind of consider myself a career councilor in a sense. So I tried to find a way that the Marine Corp could help him achieve what he wanted to achieve as well as being a marine in the process,” Robinson said.

In addition to the $180,000, the program also has Mentch go to Officer Candidate School while in college and when he graduates he will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marines.

The scholarship was given to Mentch at City Hall on Monday during a surprise ceremony. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy sent a representative to the ceremony and Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly was in attendance to show his support.

“This is what we want our young people to do, we want them to go an excel. The sky is the limit,” Matherly said.

Robinson said that Mentch was the perfect candidate for the scholarship, “What really set Mr. Warner Mentch apart from his peers was not only was he very well educated, very well spoken, but also he was a leader amongst his peers.”

The one area he was lacking in was the physical challenge. Unlike most scholarships, the NROTC Scholarship tests applicants physical abilities, something Mench said he had to work on.

“I’m in the IT cluster so obviously I wasn’t quite in shape, I was a very scrawny person going in and coming out now I can actually do the things I am supposed to be able to do,” Mentch said.

Mentch said that he was in disbelief when he won it and wasn’t expecting to win when he applied. Robinson said that of everyone who applied for the scholarship, only 50% of applicants were considered and of those only 15% won.

Mentch is looking at going to school for either engineering or pre-law and says not having to worry about debt is a burden off of his shoulders. He encouraged other students to listen to the recruiters and see if there is something for them in the military. Robinson said he hopes Mentch’s story inspires other students to put in the work and apply for the NROTC Scholarship.

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