Don Diego Scholarship Foundation is delighted to announce that it is awarding $100,000 in 2024 college scholarships and in Plant*Grow*Eat agriculture education grants.

The 26 exemplary students from across San Diego sharing a whopping $83,000 in 2024 Don Diego scholarships emanate from diverse backgrounds, possess an array of talents, and are eager to embark upon new horizons in their educations and careers. They are idealistic, altruistic, ambitious, academically accomplished, and highly motivated; in a word, exceptional, confirms Don Diego Chairman Stephen Shewmaker.

He believes, “Individually, our Class of 2024 Scholars are driven to make their community and the world a better place. Together, they embody the quintessential attributes of a Don Diego Scholar. We are delighted to help propel them on their amazing life journeys.” This year’s selection process was particularly challenging for the Board and highly competitive for recipients as 89 applications were submitted.

The Scholars will be celebrated at Don Diego’s June 13, 2024 Gala and Old Dominion Concert at the San Diego County Fair. Tickets for this limited-availability, exclusive extravaganza are available at

At the Gala, students and their families will be able to meet and thank donors, whose generosity is fueling their success. Chairman Shewmaker notes, “As in the past, many Don Diego Board members have sponsored scholarships this year, including Jon Liss and John Hoeflich, both of whom are reprising their family’s incredibly generous $20,000 scholarships provided over the course of four years.”

Don Diego annually offers college scholarships in various categories to students who reside in San Diego County and have participated in the San Diego County Fair and/or other activities associated with the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Top Four Recipients

Ruby Perez of Escondido won the top $5,000 Karetas Family Endowment Employee Scholarship plus a CGW, four-year, $5,000/year award funded by the family of John Hoeflich that will support this effervescent, hard-working student during her undergraduate work at Cal Poly, where she will major in Biological Science and pursue a career in the medical field.

Ruby wisely opines, “Students in this field need grit, ambition, and determination to persevere and achieve.” Pledging to hone these skills, this first-gen college student says, “Mine will not be an easy journey, but I’m confident that I will endure.”

Graduating an amazing ninth out of 446 students at Orange Glen High, Ruby served as a Gate Attendant at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, worked and volunteered for multiple organizations, and was an integral member of her award-winning school dance company.

Ruby says, “I’m beyond grateful for the aid I’ll be given through these scholarships because it brings me one step closer to accomplishing great things in life. It’s encouraged me to work even harder toward achieving my dreams and goals. I want to share my passion for helping others in the world, in hopes of building a better one.”

Nicholas (Nico) Usher will head from Escondido to prestigious MIT, where he will kick off his freshman year early by participating in summer internships and research projects. He is supported by a top $5,000 Ranglas Family Endowment Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship plus a Liss Family, four-year, $5,000/year award.

This innovator recounts, “Eight years ago, after learning that my elementary school didn’t have the funds or teachers to start a robotics team, I created one in my garage. In 2024, as the team’s lead mechanical engineer designing robots to solve difficult problems, we qualified for the World Championship and scored the World Record!”

Graduating from Classical Academy High School with a 4.63 GPA, Nico states, “In high school, I developed a passion and skill for mechanical design by creating a new robot every year for my FIRST Tech Challenge team, Roboctopi. I also enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm for STEM by founding a sustainable after-school robotics program at 11 elementary schools and promoting FIRST robotics at the Fair.” An articulate STEM advocate, Nico has represented his California student association on Capitol Hill and delivered well-received TEDx talks.

Modestly noting that he was also accepted at Harvard, Nico says, “I am so grateful for the support from Don Diego Scholarship Foundation because it will help me realize my dream to study Mechanical Engineering at MIT.”

Accomplished scholar and multitalented Ava Raugust captured the top 22nd DAA Board of Directors $5,000 FFA Scholarship and coveted $5,000 Spanjian Family Endowment Scholarship, awarded annually to the most outstanding applicant.

Attaining an otherworldly 4.852 GPA at El Capitan High and astounding 1,500 SAT score, along with an armful of awards in academics, athletics, leadership, and STEM, Ava, who is fluent in Mandarin and mythology, is both down to earth and ethereal. She relates, “At last year’s Fair, I bonded with my precious dairy heifer whom I named Diana after the Roman goddess of the Moon, a celestial body cows are fabled to leap over.”

Crediting FFA with helping her make the leap from caring for a guppy fish to raising a hog, showing at the Fair, and participating in JLA, Ava says, “This year, a friend and I tackled an environmental topic that impacted us as both San Diegans and agri-scientists: oil spills.” They used CAD and 3-D printing to design and build a drum skimmer, winning a high FFA prize for their groundbreaking research.

Now, as she prepares to major in Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley, Ava will leap into her goal of “combining engineering, agriculture and Mandarin to provide a better quality of life for people around the globe.”

Encinitas resident Zoe Prescott has accomplished a lot in her first 18 years and is poised to attain much more in the years ahead. Propelled by a top $5,000 Chicken Charlie 4-H Scholarship and $1,000 Don Diego Alumni Club Scholarship, along with her intense passion for animals, she will major in Animal Science at UC Davis on her way to becoming a livestock veterinarian.

Zoe states, “Winning these two scholarships means so much to me, as they relieve some of the financial weight while I pursue my lifelong dream. I am extremely grateful to Don Diego for the opportunity.”

Seizing opportunities is intrinsic to Zoe’s nature. An active 4-H member and high-achiever who graduates from San Dieguito Academy with a 4.13 GPA, Zoe has worked as a lifeguard, farm hand, and in child care while raising and showing a plethora of livestock and operating her own goat milk soap business for four successful years. One recommender lauded Zoe as “a person with a humanitarian heart who values, family, nature, and hard work.”

Additional Exceptional Recipients

Kelsey Hoeffliger, Escondido; $2,500 Tulloch Family Partners FFA Scholarship, $2,500 JLA Scholarship; Cal Poly SLO; Agriculture Communications

Salyn Meas, Lakeside; $3,500 William and Betty Ann Tulloch Endowed JLA Scholarship, $1,500 Roxana Foxx Endowment FFA Scholarship; Grossmont College/Texas A&M; Animal Science

Dacey Bender, Fallbrook; $1,000 Kirby Morrison FFA Scholarship, $1,000 JLA Scholarship; UCSD; Biology

Lily Anderson, El Cajon; $2,500 Zable Foundation 4-H Scholarship, $1,500 JLA Scholarship; Grossmont College/Chico State; Education

Chase Jonas, Lakeside; $1,500 4-H Scholarship, $1,000 JLA Scholarship; SDSU; Business Marketing

Angela Martineau, Valley Center; $1,000 Edwards Family 4-H Scholarship, $1,000 JLA Scholarship; Cal Poly SLO; Child Development

Isabella Locher, Escondido, $2,500 Mark Arabo Vocational Education Scholarship; Mesa College; Culinary Arts

Julia Smiley, El Cajon; $2,500 Karetas Family Endowment Vocational Education Scholarship; Merced College; Animal/Livestock Husbandry

Natalie Rocha, Encinitas; $2,500 Schenk Family Endowment Employee Scholarship; Cal State LA; Pre-Nursing

Andrew Shyffer, San Diego, $1,500 Howell Boys Employee Scholarship; UC Berkeley; Business Administration

Eryn Hoeffliger, Escondido; $1,000 Edwards Family Employee Scholarship; West Texas A&M, Animal Science

Natalya Huys, Santee; $2,500 Shewmaker Family Endowment Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship; UCSD, Civil Engineering

Baxter Simpson, El Cajon; $1,500 Mannen Family Endowment Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship; Chapman University; Film and TV Production

Lucy Shen, San Diego; $1,000 Ecke Family Exhibitor/Participant Scholarship; Columbia University; Biomedical Engineering

Adam Alegre, Escondido; $1,500 Brother’s Forever Scholarship; Palomar College, Agriculture Business

Emily Grosskreutz, Lakeside; $2,000 JLA Scholarship; Cuyamaca College, Law

Landree Stewart, Escondido; $2,000 JLA Scholarship; UCSD, Biology

Karlee Larzalere-Higuera, Ramona; $1,500 JLA Scholarship; University of Arizona; Animal Science

Shayla Haggerty, Poway; $1,500 JLA Scholarship; Cal Poly SLO; Agriculture Systems Management

Kimberly Cisneros Zavela, Escondido; $1,000 JLA Scholarship; Cal State San Marcos; Anthropology Medical

Isabelle Schachner, Campo; $1,000 JLA Scholarship; San Diego City College; Veterinary Technology

Avery Strang, San Marcos; $1,000 JLA Scholarship; BYU Hawaii; Zoology

The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as San Diego County Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947-1984. Since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded $1,416,844 in scholarships to 409 students and in Plant*Grow*Eat agriculture education grants, which enable elementary students from San Diego area Title 1 schools to learn about agriculture and nutrition while enjoying a day at the Fair.