A North Mankato native’s desire to be a voice for victims of the Asian prostitution slave trade has earned her a lucrative scholarship that could top $80,000 by the time she earns a law degree and a master’s of business administration.

Angela Wanak, 26, was better known as Angela Ortloff while attending Garfield Elementary, Hoover Elementary and West High School. Now she’s a first year student at the Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Wash., and one of 76 recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarships.

Nearly 1,300 students were nominated for the scholarships, which are worth up to $300,000. Along with being a summa cum laude graduate of Valparaiso University, Wanak was chosen because of her work in Thailand attempting to keep young children from being sold into prostitution and helping women rescued from brothels.

“I’ve shown I’m very passionate about helping women and children and spent several years volunteering to make an impact,” said Wanak, the daughter of Lutheran Pastor Charles Ortloff and Karen Ortloff, who works at Associated Psychological Services.

Wanak will work on her MBA degree next year. In the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, she will be in both the law school and the Atkinson School of Management simultaneously — completing five years of advanced education in four.

The scholarship, which includes a living stipend, will allow her to focus on academics rather than paying bills.

“I’m very glad because, boy, is it demanding,” Wanak said.

Because Wanak already had substantial scholarships from Willamette, the latest scholarship will be used just to fill in the gaps — about $15,000 this year and $20,000 to $25,000 in each of the next three years.

After finishing her advanced degrees and picking up some professional experience, she hopes to return to Thailand better armed to fight the selling of vulnerable people between borders for use in prostitution.

Wanak said she had never considered becoming a lawyer until her time in Thailand taught her about the power of the law in bringing attention to heinous crimes previously being ignored by authorities. It was during a side trip to Thailand while spending her junior year studying in Japan that she became aware of the routine selling of humans in the area.

After graduation from Valparaiso, she joined a nonprofit group working in northern Thailand to fight the slave trade and aid its victims. While proud of the work being done by the group, she felt ill-equipped to make major strides in ending the deeply rooted trafficking of humans.

“It was more like putting a Band-Aid on a problem rather than getting to the heart and the root and curing it,” she said.

She hopes to return to that work and eventually create her own nonprofit organization aimed at a cure.

Wanak said North Mankato, its schools, even her cross-country coach, had a role in preparing her to achieve so much in just a few years.

“It was a wonderful place to grow up,” she said. “It was a very good foundation there, and a place I felt safe.”

Although she was heavily involved in music, band and orchestra in those years, she credits cross country coach Greg Schmidt as a mentor and major influence on her.

“I think he taught me how to search within myself and give more than I thought I had,” Wanak said.

While those lessons were taught in the context of running, they’ve translated well to academic challenges and setting life goals, she said.

“That’s something I’ve taken with me — not to be afraid to dream big and try things even if I’m not sure how it’s going to work out.”

And she’s grateful her parents never attempted to dissuade her, even when she was heading across the world and into less-than-safe situations.

“They have been one of my greatest sources of encouragement and support,” she said.

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