Sallie Mae Announces Winners of the ‘Make College Happen Challenge’

Grand-Prize Winner Blake Takushi of Sugar Land, Texas, Awarded

Second-Place Winner Gabriel Gaurano of San Diego, California,
Receives $10,000

Third-Place Winner Amy Wisegarver of Sammamish, Washington, Wins

NEWARK, Del.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#MakeCollegeHappenChallenge–Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college
company, today announced the winners of the “Make College Happen
Challenge,” the contest which asked high school students to describe
creatively their plan to pay for college. Blake Takushi of Sugar Land,
Texas, took home the top prize of $15,000; second-place winner Gabriel
Gaurano of San Diego, California, won $10,000; and third-place winner
Amy Wisegarver of Sammamish, Washington, won $8,000. The winners, along
with the seven other finalists, each of whom received $1,000, were
revealed during a special event on Facebook

More than 1,100 students from across the country entered the “Make
College Happen Challenge,” with creative entries that included videos,
rap songs, poems, essays, and other creative forms. A panel of judges
narrowed the field to 10 finalists based on creativity, effective
communication, and potential of the plan. Voting was then opened to the
public, who cast more than 35,000 votes for their favorite entries.

Grand-prize winner Blake Takushi, 18, is a senior and honor
student-athlete at Kempner High School in Sugar Land, Texas. He plans to
pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at
Austin. Blake submitted an engaging video
that provided practical advice about planning for college, including
taking advanced placement courses to earn college credits while still in
high school, exploring dual-enrollment opportunities through local
community colleges, working part-time to save money, applying for
scholarships, and borrowing responsibly to make college happen.

Second-place winner Gabriel Gaurano, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy in
San Diego, California, is already following his dream of becoming a
filmmaker. The 17-year-old filmmaker combined both suspense and humor in
his video
submission, providing tips for making college happen, such as working
part-time, searching and applying for scholarships, and completing the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Gaurano also provided
practical personal finance tips to help young people understand their
finances and manage their budgets.

Third-place winner Amy Wisegarver, 18, is a senior at Eastlake High
School in Sammamish, Washington. She plans to study graphic design in
college. An entrepreneur — she’s already started her own line of
T-shirts — and musician, Wisegarver wrote, produced, and performed a song
about her dream of attending college and her efforts to make that
happen, which included winning scholarships, completing the FAFSA, and

“The ‘Make College Happen Challenge’ goes hand-in-hand with our mission
here at Sallie Mae,” said Martha Holler, senior vice president, Sallie
Mae. “It’s especially gratifying to see these young people embrace the
challenge of planning for college not only creatively, but also
practically, providing real-world advice to their peers who may be on
this same journey. Their excitement during our Facebook Live event was
priceless. Congratulations to all the winners. You inspire the students
and families out there working hard to make college happen.”

Watch the winners’ reactions on Facebook

Sallie Mae conducted the “Make College Happen Challenge” in partnership
with By Kids For Kids, a leader in education that inspires innovation in

“We are thrilled to once again be working with Sallie Mae to help
students plan for college,” said Norm Goldstein, founder and CEO, By
Kids For Kids. “We were blown away by this year’s entries and the
overwhelming response from the public, who cast even more votes than
last year. We congratulate not just the winners, but all the contest
participants who are taking the right steps to turn their college dreams
into reality.”

Sallie Mae also awarded $1,000 to the following “Make College Happen
Challenge” winners who rounded out the top 10 finalists:

  • Jasmine Chan of Alhambra, California
  • Sarah Wouters of Port St. Lucie, Florida
  • Madison Stano of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Amy Wieland of West Des Moines, Iowa
  • Benjamin Trimpi of Greenville, North Carolina
  • Vincent Marchi of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Adriena Pew of Shaw Island, Washington

Join the conversation on social media using #MakeCollegeHappenChallenge.
For complete contest rules, visit

For more information about saving, planning, and paying for college,

Sallie Mae (Nasdaq: SLM) is the nation’s saving, planning, and
paying for college company. Whether college is a long way off or just
around the corner, Sallie Mae offers products that promote responsible
personal finance, including private education loans, Upromise rewards,
scholarship search, college financial planning tools, and online retail
banking. Learn more at
Commonly known as Sallie Mae, SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are
not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


Sallie Mae
Rick Castellano, 302-451-2541