Elena Pauker, Winner of the 2021 Plum Cares Academic Scholarship

Elena Pauker of Glenview, Illinois, has been selected as the 2021 Plum Cares Academic Scholarship (PCAS) winner. This is a one-time scholarship of $5,000 which will be devoted to Pauker’s studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she intends to pursue a degree in Finance come Fall of 2021 and be a part of the University’s club gymnastics team.

This year is the 4th annual PCAS, where each spring, Plum Practicewear, a leading online retailer of gymnastics apparel and accessories, opens its application process for gymnasts across the country. The scholarship was made available to graduating high school seniors who identify as competitive gymnasts within one of the following disciplines: artistic, rhythmic, acrobatic, tumbling, or trampoline. 

Pauker is a recent graduate of Glenbrook South High School and has finished as a Level 10 gymnast from the American Academy of Gymnastics. Since the age of thirteen, Pauker has dreamed of attending Washington University after visiting the campus on a family trip. She remembers the school feeling “castle-like” and felt like she was entering a “magical kingdom.” Five years and lots of hard work later, Pauker is joining the ranks of the community she once fantasized about being a part of.

Despite countless hours in the gym, Pauker still managed to keep up with her schoolwork while also serving in several leadership roles. Since 2017, she was a member of the Glenbrook South High School Model United Nations team, leading the group as a three-year executive board member. Also, since 2017, she was a varsity member and Build Captain of her school’s Science Olympiad team.

Pauker is no stranger to lending a helping hand in her Glenview community as well. Between tutoring at the Glenbrook South Titan Learning Center, volunteering at her local library teaching young readers, and serving on the North Shore Legal Aid Clinic Regional Board, she has undoubtedly had an impact in her local neighborhood.

She began her professional career at a young age, serving as a Wilmette Gymnastics coach for the past four years and working as a marketing intern at Steelike Inc., a concrete manufacturer. Her endeavors have allowed her to learn valuable skills she hopes to expand on in her Finance studies.

Having competed in gymnastics for the past eleven years, Pauker is not ready to abandon her roots and has plans to give back to the sport differently. She is excited about joining the co-ed gymnastics club at Washington University, which will give her a chance to try the pommel horse, an event traditionally reserved for male competitors. She even dreams of developing her own gymnastics apparel line one day.

Plum’s goal has always been to inspire young gymnasts through positivity and compassion, and Pauker is an excellent embodiment of that mission. During a year that continued to be difficult in so many ways, she balanced academics, athletics, and giving back to others - a feat that deserves to be recognized.

When asked about winning the PCAS, Pauker stated, “Being awarded the Plum scholarship is a great honor. I am thankful for the support from the Plum community as I embark on a new chapter of my life. I am looking forward to broadening my business skills and becoming an impactful leader.”

Pauker was selected out of 44 applicants who were required to provide a recent copy of their transcripts, a letter of recommendation, a 500-word essay, and a completed application detailing their participation in extracurricular activities and volunteer work. The applications were scored on a 100-point rubric that were based upon the following criteria: academics (grades) = 40 points, the essay = 30 points, extra-curricular/volunteerism = 20 points, and the letter of recommendation = 10 points.

To learn more about the Plum Cares Academic Scholarship, visit. Applications for the 2022 scholarship program will be announced in April 2022.

Read What Elena’s Essay As She Envisions Her “Next Chapter” Below: 

Chapter 13: Freshman Year 

Finally August 20th, 2021 arrives. For Elena, 2021 was always in the back of her mind as the year she would graduate from high school, move away from home, and attend college. As a freshman in high school, she filled out a survey about herself that she opened the spring of her senior year. One of the questions was, "What is your dream college?" Elena answered, “Washington University in St. Louis” (WashU). During high school, Elena excelled at academics, led her Model United Nations (UN) team, and helped students as a volunteer tutor, all while training as a level 10 gymnast. Four years and countless hours of hard work later, her freshman dream became her reality. 

Elena is stuffing her turquoise speaker named Jerry into the already overflowing trunk of her family's grey SUV to prepare for her move-in day at Washington University in St. Louis. "¿Estás lista?", her father asks her in Spanish, the language spoken at home. She nods and excitedly climbs into the car for the five hour drive from Chicago to St. Louis. As they cross the Illinois/Missouri border, Elena sees the Gateway Arch and realizes that she is crossing the gateway from being a child to becoming a business professional. She first visited WashU when she was 13 and felt like she was entering a magical kingdom as she walked through the castle-like entrance of the school. Five years later she was joining that community. 

After the first few weeks of college, Elena's favorite class is Macroeconomics, a follow-on to her high school AP Macroeconomics course. College is a place where Elena thrives. At the end of the first semester, one of her first year business classes conducts a business plan competition, where Elena works diligently to create 

a new leotard brand. After 11 years of competitive gymnastics, Elena has many ideas for the ideal leotard including comfortable material and sparkles. She targets the teen market with her modern, yet simple, designs and develops plans for an online store. Her professors are impressed and she advances to the next round of competition. Elena is excited to continue her high school international accounting research by working directly with a WashU accounting professor. She hopes to publish a paper about these concepts in her sophomore year. 

Since gymnastics has been a large part of her life, Elena is thankful that WashU has a club gymnastics team where she can compete in a supportive and fun environment. The gymnastics team is co-ed which gives Elena the opportunity to compete the pommel horse, which is traditionally a boys event. Her team travels to the University of Illinois for a meet. Elena meets up with a friend who is on the Illinois club team. They cheer each other on throughout the entire meet and tie for the all-around championship. What a way to end freshman year!