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From healthcare to space, SLI scholars explore college and career opportunities to “make our world a better place”

HARRISONBURG, VA / December 2, 2023 – Approximately 60 high school and college students attended the annual James Madison University Professors in Residence (PIR) and Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) College and Career Access Day at JMU, which for the first time featured local Sentara Health professionals sharing their expertise in promoting salud y comunidad, or health and community. 

Supported by JMU’s Office of Inclusive Excellence and Engagement and Office of Admissions, the day was coordinated by Carlos Alemán, Ph.D, a JMU professor in residence at Harrisonburg City Public Schools and a SLI program director. JMU undergraduates in the student organization SLI Mentors assisted with catering planning and welcomed participants as campus hosts.

“Young people are more motivated than ever to make our world a better place as leaders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scientists,” said Alemán. “Connecting first-generation high school students with the resources to pursue these ambitions and careers through higher education is an invigorating experience.”

Additional support for the event came from Sentara Health through a grant that earlier this year also helped fund SLI scholarships for 18 SLI scholars currently pursuing college degrees in health-related fields. For College and Career Access Day, Sentara provided access to employees who shared with students about healthcare professions and opportunities. They included:

  • Silvia Garcia-Romero, Director, Diversity & Inclusion
  • Onesimo Baltazar Corona, Director of Operations (Harrisonburg), Sentara Community Care
  • Gladys Zito, Language Services Coordinator
  • Mayra Gavia Molina, Registered Nurse
  • Zulma Argueta, Community Health Worker

In addition, Sentara physician assistant Leodegario Alonso provided the keynote address, sharing about persistence on his career journey, and encouraging students to forge their own pathways. Alonso holds degrees from Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Before becoming a physician assistant, he worked as a radiologic technologist, Futuro Latino Coalition specialist, medical interpreter, and United States Army Reserve drill sergeant.

“It is very powerful to have someone like Leo, who looks like the scholars, share a story that resonates with them and inspires them to continue on their career path,” said Garcia-Romero. “These experiences are so impactful and make a difference in Latino career advancement, and this is why we are proud to be a partner and support SLI’s work.” 

Participating SLI scholars, who attended from Harrisonburg and John Handley (Winchester) High Schools, were also invited to explore how to use medical equipment such as blood pressure monitors, CPR masks, and digital thermometers.

JMU has supported PIR-SLI College Access Day since 2016. The addition to the program of career professionals and support by Sentara Health marks a development in networking opportunities for attending students. 

Academic exploration sessions connected students with JMU professors who shared about their curricula and areas of expertise. Topics and presenters included:

  • Graduate Studies Opportunities, Melissa Alemán, Ph.D.
  • Foreign Languages and Cultures, Verónica Davila Ellis, Ph.D.
  • Communication and Relations, Reslie Cortés, Ph.D.
  • Space and Physics, Prayash Sharma Pyakurel, Ph.D.
  • Immigration and Justice, Graciela Perez, Ph.D.
  • Politics and Political Science, Kristin Wylie, Ph.D.

Participants also toured the JMU campus and were treated to lunch in D-Hall.

ABOUT SLI

With programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, Scholars Latino Initiative supports Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Through collaborations with university and high school staff, faculty, and students, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school, plus financial support for college success. Since 2012 SLI has served 180 scholars (67 current and 113 alumni) and awarded more than $542,000 in financial support for students.

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