Scholarship honoring Parkland victim goes to Polytech High alumna
Like many college students, Devon Ott jumped at any scholarship opportunity that came her way. Now studying graphic design at George Washington University, the Polytech High School graduate recently applied for and was granted a scholarship unlike any other.
The Gina Rose Montalto Memorial Foundation Arts Scholarship honors the memory of a girl killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14, 2018.
Gina Rose Montalto was 14 years old when she died. She loved art, drawing, building robots, playing with machines and computers, Girl Scouts, color guard and spending time with her family.
Her parents, Tony and Jennifer Montalto, created the memorial foundation to donate to causes important to their daughter and help students afford college. This was one way they could “help keep Gina’s life shining,” they said.
“Gina was a special girl who melted every heart with her infectious smile that lit up a room. She was instant friends with everyone she met. She had a great sense of humor, and always made people laugh. She was a kind spirit, always eager to lend a helping hand,” her parents wrote on the foundation’s website. They said they wanted to support someone pursuing a career in the arts, something Ott said has always been on her mind.
As the arts scholarship’s first recipient, Ott said she was honored to be chosen.
“I’m really glad that I can be a part of continuing [Gina’s] legacy just because I feel like if I knew her we would have been friends,” Ott said. “Reading about her interests, we liked a lot of the same things, like Harry Potter, and she played soccer and liked cooking, and she cared about her grades, but also loved drawing and illustrations.” The two share the same middle name: Rose.
In high school, Ott loved art but never took a class until college. When she applied to study graphic design at George Washington, she wasn’t sure what the major entailed. Now, her voice is animated as she talks about her future.
“I definitely want to be a designer,” she said. “That’s just exciting to me because a lot of people don’t realize how integral this stuff is in their everyday life. You look around and realize, ‘Oh a designer made that.’”
The foundation offers three more scholarships: one for a STEM student (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math), one for a Girl Scout who earned the Gold Award from the Southeast Florida service unit and one for a Nova Southeastern University student pursuing an advanced degree in clinical psychology, social work or marriage and family therapy.
“Gina was a straight-A student. She excelled in everything she touched and because of that we wanted to have scholarships that reflected those talents,” Tony Montalto said. They added the mental-health focused scholarship to prevent more tragedies like Parkland.
Each candidate submits an application and essay and then Tony and Jennifer Montalto interview three finalists via video chat.
The Girl Scout award was granted in May, and the STEM and Arts scholarships in November.
“It was bittersweet. Of course everything we do is that way,” Jennifer Montalto said. “There was great joy in meeting these wonderful people, and it was difficult to realize that our wonderful, beautiful and talented daughter isn’t here.”
Applications were open only to families of United Airlines employees this year, but Tony and Jennifer Montalto said they hope to expand the scholarship programs as the foundation grows.
“Ultimately, we hope to find another set of superior winners to award the scholarships in 2020 that will continue Gina’s legacy and kindness and go out and do good things in the world as we were raising our daughter to do,” Tony Montalto said.