SWAG on 6: Coral Gables High School's Maria Estrada

Here's the CliffsNotes version of what you need to know about Maria Estrada.

"She's the 'it' factor. She's the package, the full package," said Liz Stack, the college advisor at Coral Gables High School.

Maria is a senior at Gables and a straight "A" student. She's a Questbridge scholar and she also won the prestigious Coca-Cola scholarship. Maria is on her way to the Ivy League next year, looking ahead with a plan of service.

"Devote my life to helping those that aren't able to help themselves and give a voice to those that don't have a voice," Maria said, describing her goals.

Maria is the kind of kid who leaves not just a legacy of academic achievement at her school, but a legacy of caring about others as well. She's the one her friends turn to for advice and help.

"When she sees that something needs to be done, she's the first person to say, let's get a team together, let's solve this problem. So she's very inspiring in the sense that she makes others want to feel like they're a part of something," said classmate Sabrina Ochoa. "The way that she carries herself, her composure, it's contagious."

When Maria joined the newspaper staff, she started its first Spanish news and sports section.

"She inspires me every day to be the best version of myself," said Giselle Gonzalez, one of Maria's classmates and best friends. "She overcame so many obstacles, that I think nothing can stop her."

Maria comes from a single-mom family. She knows what poverty is like and that inspired her to organize a clothing drive for orphans in Mexico. The orphanage told her the kids needed socks and underwear, so Maria collected nearly 400 packs of undies and socks and brought them to Mexico herself. She's familiar with the territory. Born in Cuba, Maria's father is from Mexico and still lives there.

"Just seeing the impact on the children when they received the packages, how their eyes lit up, the impact of getting something we think of as insignificant, it inspired me," Maria said. "Being able to make an impact on helping others is kind of like the way to give back to the world, little by little."

Those who know Maria at school, her teachers and counselors, say she has the perfect mix of attributes.

"Between intellectual curiosity, she's super bright, and also community oriented and community minded. She's involved in everything on campus," Liz Stack said.

Maria founded her school's chapter of the Hispanic National Honor Society.

"I would hope that I've inspired others, not necessarily by what I say but what I do, that my actions instilled in someone else that need, that desire, to help the people around them," Maria said.

After she graduates from Columbia, Maria wants to become a doctor, the kind who travels to Third World countries to save lives where there is no health care. She's got ambition flavored with compassion, grounded by experience.

"My advice," Maria said, directing it at other students, "would be don't give up, don't ever feel limited by economic status."

Contact Us