Sallie Mae Announces Winners of ‘Make College Happen Challenge’

Grand Prize Winner Kaci Nuehring of Clive, Iowa, Awarded $15,000;
Second Place Winner Nicolas Badila of Jonesboro, Ga., Receives $10,000;
Third Place Winner Alexander Gomez of Ruidoso, N.M., Wins $7,500

NEWARK, Del.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sallie Mae, the nation’s saving, planning, and paying for college
company, today announced the top three winners of the “Make
College Happen Challenge
,” the contest that asked high school
students to describe creatively how they plan to pay for college. More
than 30,000 votes were cast for 10 winning entries, which included
videos, song parodies, a comic book, and a poem. Those votes from the
public were combined with scores from contest judges to choose the top
three winners.

And the top three winners are:

  • Kaci Nuehring, 18, of Clive, Iowa, who won the grand prize of $15,000.
  • Nicolas Badila, 17, of Jonesboro, Ga., who won the second place prize
    of $10,000.
  • Alexander Gomez, 18, of Ruidoso, N.M., who won the third place prize
    of $7,500.

The top three winners originally were competing for a grand prize of
$10,000, a second-place prize of $5,000, and a third-place prize of
$2,500. Sallie Mae was so impressed by the entries of each recipient,
and recognizing the distance each traveled to attend the Boston-area
celebration event, the company decided to provide each of the winners
with an additional $5,000.

“Our research shows almost all families believe college is a worthwhile
and critical investment in their children’s future, yet only two in five
have a plan to pay for it,” said Charlie Rocha, executive vice
president, Sallie Mae. “Sometimes, the hardest part is simply getting
started, but it’s clear our winners have given this issue serious
thought and are on the right track. Their personal journeys and detailed
plans to reach college were so impressive, we wanted to go one step
further and reward each with an additional $5,000.”

Grand prize winner Kaci Nuehring is a senior at Waukee High School in
Waukee, Iowa, who plans to attend the University of Kansas and become a
pharmacist. Her contest video
uses whiteboard animation to describe her four-point plan to pay for
college: take advanced placement classes while in high school to earn
college credits and save on tuition; apply for multiple scholarships;
work part-time to build savings; and research student loans and interest

Second-place winner Nicolas Badila is a home-schooled high school
junior. Already pursuing an associate’s degree at Gwinnett Technical
College, he hopes to study computer science or business at Morehouse
College. He produced an autobiographical video
that features video games he created, including one President Barack
Obama played at a White House Science Fair.

Third-place winner Alexander Gomez is a senior at Ruidoso High School in
Ruidoso, N.M., who plans to study art and illustration at the University
of Colorado. Alex has been accepted to the University’s Honors and
Leadership program. He created an animated video
that illustrates steps he is taking to reduce college expenses,
including taking dual credit and advanced placement classes and applying
for scholarships.

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

“Kids are 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future,”
said Norm Goldstein, founder and CEO, By Kids For Kids. “We are proud to
be working with Sallie Mae to help students realize their potential, and
we congratulate not just the winners, but all the contest participants
who took the time to think about how they would make college happen.”

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

  • Makaila Garcia of Charlotte, N.C.
  • Karis Holm of Castle Rock, Colo.
  • Ellen Lewis of Winfred, S.D.
  • Ebony Lockwood of Columbus, Ga.
  • Colson Mullane of West Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Josephine Rieman of Mt. Laurel, N.J.
  • Mason Stratton of West Des Moines, Iowa.

To see all 10 winning entries, visit

For free planning-for-college tips, tools, and resources visit

About By Kids For Kids

By Kids For Kids® (BKFK) is an agency that empowers youth
invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. BKFK provides a unique
platform for kids and teens to develop and showcase their ideas,
inventions, and entrepreneurship. The company provides free educational
resources, including curricula and challenges that promote social
change, product innovation, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Learn more:

About Sallie Mae

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 Contact:
Abigail Brooks, 302-451-0230
Kids For Kids contact:

Judy Klym, 203-921-9039