A Decade of Opportunity

10 years ago, public and private sector leaders came together to create something that had never been tried before. 

Back then, students were facing untold barriers to accessing education. Employers were struggling to hire the talent they needed to reach market demands. Our talent gap was threatening the economic vitality of our state and leaving students, families and communities behind. 

This public-private partnership was born from a promise to better connect bright Washington students with the education and training needed for the jobs of tomorrow. With the generous support and engagement of industry and philanthropic donors—matched dollar-for-dollar by the state of Washington—we reduce barriers through financial aid and support services while responding strategically to workforce needs through private sector collaboration.  

This year marks the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship’s 10th anniversary of serving our incredible Scholars. 10 years later, we know this innovative model works. 

Our model. 

Opportunity Scholars have access to more than just money. Flexible financial aid coupled with student supports help students develop their network, hone their soft skills and prepare for career launch. Our partnerships with industry facilitate connections for Scholars while getting partners access to top talent and an opportunity to diversify their organization. 

Who we serve. 

We support Washington students on a path to high-demand trade, STEM and health care credentials in Washington state through certificate, degree and apprenticeship programs. We create a college-to-career pipeline for those who are often furthest from opportunities in these fields, including women, students of color and first-generation students.  

I cried when I got the letter. WSOS gave me a lot of opportunities and a lot of support. I want to be an internal medicine physician in a small town. I want to give back to a community similar to the one that helped raise me. 

– Lia, Baccalaureate Scholar 

When you are first-gen, you have never been to college before; your family has never been to college, it’s a culture shock. I realized I had to find someone to be there for me and support me. I don’t think I would have made it if the WSOS community wasn’t there; the community is a family to me. 

– Edgar, Baccalaureate Scholar 

I was so scared I wasn’t going to be able to start my program. Being a disabled, single mom from a very poor, rural community is hard enough. Trying to get an education on top of that… it just means everything in the world to have this opportunity. 

– Vanessa, Rural Jobs Initiative Scholar 

Cover of the 2021 impact report. Three people stand at a table. One is smiling at the camera. Two are smiling but looking down at the table in front of them.

View our 2021 Impact Report

Take a look at what we’ve accomplished in the past 10 years.

OpportunityTalks 2021

Thank you for joining us at the seventh annual breakfast. View the replay!

Celebrating 10 years of impact!

Take a look through the biggest moments of the past decade!

March 2011

The Washington State Legislature creates a new public-private partnership to support students pursuing bachelor degrees in STEM and health care called the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.

Boeing and Microsoft each invest $25 million in WSOS and become our first Cornerstone Partners.

Brad Smith

Brad Smith is appointed the WSOS Board Chair by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Our first cohort of Baccalaureate (BaS) Scholars are selected based on their interest in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a highest-demand STEM or health care career.  


The first-ever annual OpportunityTalks Breakfast fundraising event is held, featuring speeches by Gov. Christine Gregoire and Board Chair Brad Smith.

The WSOS pilot mentorship program is launched in collaboration with Boeing, and later becomes known as Skills that Shine.


Gary and Jennifer Rubens of the Rubens Family Foundation joins WSOS as a Cornerstone Partner with an investment of $20 million.

Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie of the Ballmer Group become the fourth WSOS Cornerstone Partner with an investment of $11 million.


Legislation expands WSOS to s support associate degrees, certificates and programs in high-demand trade, STEM and health care credentials as well as advanced degrees in health care programs, which later becomes the Graduate Program supporting aspiring nurse practitioners.

Legislation is passed to create a new program that supports the needs of rural economies, later called the Rural Jobs Initiative, a program of the Career and Technical Scholarship.

Scholar Lead logo

The Scholar Lead program is launched, a program designed to leverage peer mentoring to improve persistence outcomes in the BaS program.

A male Scholar and female Scholar working in a lab, wearing lab coats

Our first cohort of Career and Technical Scholars are selected.

A person in a hardhat and construction vest smiles at the camera

Legislation is passed to allow tribes, counties and municipal governments to invest in WSOS and receive state matching funds.

a person wearing a blue shirt smiling at the camera

New Executive Director Kimber Connors is hired, taking the place of founding Executive Director Naria Santa Lucia.


An audit by the Joint Legislative Review Committee demonstrates the WSOS model is leading to strong, positive outcomes for Washington students.

A person seen in profile is driving a tractor

Our first cohort of Rural Jobs Initiative Scholars are selected.

Infographic map with heart

The COVID-19 pandemic begins and WSOS staff transition to remote work while moving all student supports and programming from in-person to virtual.

Are You Game? The 2020 OpportunityTalks logo

The first fully virtual OppotunityTalks Breakfast is held, featuring comedian Trevor Noah.


Not only are Baccalaureate Scholars two-times more likely to graduate in four years than their peers, but they have an average salary of $100,000 after graduation.

The Graduate Scholarship (GRD) supports Washington students pursuing advanced health care degrees to become nurse practitioners.

Boeing Microsoft and Rubens Family Foundation logos

Gary and Jennifer Rubens, Microsoft and Boeing all recommit to WSOS with $10, $15 and $5 million recommitment donations, respectively.

City of Seattle logo

The City of Seattle becomes the first municipal or tribal partner to take advantage of the matching partnership opportunity

Quote from Vanesa

WSOS crosses milestone of disbursing $100 million to students in scholarship supports.