When Ashley Murphy-Lehman, a graduating senior at East High School, applied recently for a scholarship, she did it on a whim.
It was six days before the application's deadline, and she had a rare night without homework.
She was looking on the Internet for scholarships and came across the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program website.
To complete the scholarship's application process, she spent six hours writing nine essays.
Her efforts paid off because Murphy-Lehman is one of seven students in Kansas — four from Wichita — to receive a Gates scholarship, each valued at up to $500,000.
So far this spring, Wichita public school students have received more than $24 million in scholarships, according to Jim Flax, coordinator of Guidance and Counseling for Wichita public schools.
The numbers are only preliminary, said Susan Arensman, spokesman for the Wichita school district. More scholarships, including National Merit Scholarship numbers, have not come in yet.
For some, the scholarships are the equivalent of winning an intellectual lottery, such as what happened to Kaycee Anderson of Northwest High School.
In December, Anderson was notified she had won a QuestBridge National College Match to the University of Pennsylvania — at $54,000 per year for four years.
"At first, I thought it was too good to be true,'' Anderson said. "But I researched and filled out all the applications, and they selected me. I'm excited to be going out of state."
She plans on being a mechanical engineer.
Flax said he expects the overall scholarships to Wichita district students to total well over $25 million by the close of this school year. Some scholarships may be for only a few hundred dollars while others amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
The amount of scholarships students are receiving this year is up from two years ago, when Wichita public students received $14 million in funding. Last year, students received $28 million in scholarships.
"We have some excellent students who have done well," Flax said. "And because there is so much competition among the universities to get the brightest and best, the colleges have had to up the scholarship ante to pull these kids in."
For the students and their families who receive scholarships, it means a chance at better lives.
Murphy-Lehman's mother, Christine Murphy, called her daughter's scholarship news "definitely crazy."
"They pay for everything — her college, dorm — everything except her food," Murphy said.
"I am a single mom on disability. And that kid is smarter than all get out. I had no clue what we were going to do in terms of getting her to college. It's just a huge relief."
The scholarship will pay for Murphy-Lehman's doctorate degree if she decides to pursue it, Murphy said.
For Murphy-Lehman, who plans on majoring in forensic psychology at the University of Nebraska, the Gates scholarship is a chance to keep on succeeding.
"I haven't had the easiest life," she said. "I've pushed myself through. I work 25 hours a week at Wendy's, and I've learned so much on how to treat people."