6 Ensembles, 3 Clubs, 2 Directions, 1 Stellar Scholar – The Suburban Times
Pacific Lutheran University announcement.
When Kaila Harris ’24 received her acceptance letter from PLU, it was a special moment for her and her family. Upon arrival, Kaila read the letter, which included the contents of her financial aid package, aloud to her parents.
“When I finished, my dad stood up, gave me one of the tightest hugs I’ve had from him in my life, told me he was proud of me and said… cried,” Harris said. “It was one of the two times I saw him cry.”
Harris is a recipient of the 253 PLU Bound Scholarship, a scholarship program that was originally designed in 2015 for students in Pierce County, Washington (the Pierce County area code is 253), but has since expanded to the whole state. In addition to four years of paid tuition, 253 scholars also receive a $1,500 housing grant and a $1,000 success support scholarship. In partnership with Washington State, it is designed to make higher education accessible to students from all financial backgrounds.
Kaila grew up an hour and a half from Tacoma in Castle Rock, Washington and attended Castle Rock High School. A major in education, with an emphasis on special education, and a minor in music, PLU has always been her first choice.
“I was very lucky because the principal of my high school band, Ms. Dietz, was a PLU alumnus,” Harris explained. “We even had the opportunity to come to the PLU and attend music workshops with PLU educators while I was in high school. Through my relationship with Ms. Dietz and knowing the school before I even applied, I knew PLU was where I wanted to be.
Since joining PLU in 2019, Harris has not only immersed herself in the campus community, but has also become a leader and changemaker at Parkland. In addition to being a member of six PLU musical ensembles, as well as three student-run clubs, Harris is also student director of PLU’s Artist Mentorship Program (AMP) and associate director of the Parkland Literacy Center.
The artist mentorship program has been around for some time in PLU, but it was discontinued when former student leaders graduated. As a music student and educator, Harris was looking for a way to provide financially disadvantaged local youth with free access to music programs. After speaking with PLU faculty, she was encouraged to revitalize the artist mentorship program, which she did. This summer, AMP will officially relaunch and offer free music camps for young local musicians.
The Parkland Literacy Center offers free tutoring in most subjects to all K-12 students in the Bethel and Franklin Pierce school districts. The tutoring is led by student volunteers from the PLU, and an average of 15 students each semester regularly give their time. With the goal of providing support for adult English language learners in the near future, the Parkland Literacy Center is quickly becoming a cornerstone of education in the local South Sound community.
“My goal is not just to do what I can to provide access to education for everyone, but to make sure the community knows there are resources available to them,” Harris said. “I recently had a job-shadowing experience in a local fifth-grade classroom where the teacher told me that her students were open about how college didn’t feel like an option for them.”
Harris explained that this could also have been her reality if one of her college professors hadn’t explained to her family that there were resources available to them.
“The 253 PLU Bound Scholarship not only helped me get here, but the extra support provided through the Supporting Success Scholarship helped me stay.”
Harris has found a home here in Parkland, and after using her PLUS year to graduate in 2024, she fully intends to stay here to continue working and supporting the local community.