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    College update: Gabriela, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’19
    Shenandoah University ’23 (pre-physical therapy)

    I’ve been part of the SLI program since I was a freshman in high school. In fall 2019, I started my education at Shenandoah University as a freshman, majoring in exercise science with a concentration in biology. I’m now in my senior year, and during my journey as a first-generation student, I’ve been able to learn and grow as a person in ways that only education can give. I’ve been able to make career connections that allow me to become more knowledgeable in the physical therapy field, which is the field I intend to pursue after graduation.

    I aim to make a difference in my community, and support from SLI is absolutely the difference maker when it comes to affording the education I need in order to do that and give back in the future. My mom is a single mom, as my dad passed away before I was born, and so she is the only one providing for me and my brother. She has done everything she can to support me financially but it’s still not enough to cover my college expenses, so I’ve been always working and studying at the same time to pay for books, room and board, and additional expenses.

    It’s incredible to think that I’m one semester away from being able to graduate. I remember when I attended my first class, terrified because I knew nothing. College has taught me so much, not only about the field I intend to pursue but also about life in general. So far I’ve completed two internships, one in an inpatient clinic and the other one in an outpatient clinic, where I could put into practice all the knowledge I’ve gained during my time in college. I believe this could not have been possible without the help of programs like SLI where dreams come true for hardworking students like me, students who are trying to have a better future. 

    SLI has been quite an awesome experience, empowering and lifting. I’ve been able to learn about my strengths, talents, and weaknesses. I’ve always been a resilient person, always thinking positively, patient, and hard working towards my goals, and I’m totally sure that these strengths are the main factors that have pushed me through everything and got me where I’m today. In the medical field, you have to learn to be patient and positive because you have to be strong for your patients. They rely on you, and the more communication and connection you have with them, the faster they would be able to recover. 

    Helping other people has always been something I truly enjoy. I’ve always been a giver, and since I was little I enjoyed finding ways or opportunities where I could help people without expecting anything back. I think that being so passionate about helping others, open minded, and positive will help me be successful in the field.

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    College update: Katie, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’19
    Eastern Mennonite University ’23 (psychology, criminology)

    I’m in my last year of college and this achievement comes from my perseverance and from all the people who have helped me through this amazing experience. As a college student I have learned to not underestimate myself and to see the wonderful things I’m capable of. 

    Being an immigrant student is hard enough, and being a first-generation student as well means I have to work twice as hard – and I have been working hard these past three years in college. I have encountered many obstacles, but I have never given up, and I never will.

    That’s the most valuable strength I have: I never give up. That’s what has gotten me this far, and it will help me to achieve my goal. Sometimes I doubt myself, but then I tell myself to keep trying even if it’s hard, and that I’m capable of doing amazing things, and I have to work hard to get what I wish for. I know that I have to be brave to achieve my dreams, and I think that’s what will lead me to my success. 

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    College update: Angela, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’19
    Shenandoah University ’22 (communication media, Spanish, cinematography)

    Read Angela’s reflection of gratitude here

    Three years ago I was a girl with many ambitions and visions in mind. Today I am just months away from achieving that beloved goal that many of us set for ourselves but not all of us have the opportunity or the discipline to finish: to have a university degree, to have a different future from our immigrant parents. 

    Originally I was supposed to graduate one year from now, but thanks to my commitment I have been able to advance in certain classes, which will allow me to graduate early with a double degree. 

    As a university student, SLI has been a fundamental program in my life, since it has obviously given me support in every way and has helped me develop many areas of my life, both academically and personally. At the beginning of my career one of my goals was always to finish everything that I started, from assignments to internships. I challenged myself to improve my English, and I was able to attend tutoring. 

    I am extremely grateful for everything I have achieved both in my academic life and in my personal life. As an independent student, I have faced a difficult financial situation that has pushed me to leave my comfort zone and work daily to be able to keep up with my university and personal expenses. 

    I am motivated to stand out from the ordinary. My verbal skills have allowed me to communicate with character when asking for help or advice. My early maturity and independence have taught me to appreciate the smallest things in life. 

    Being independent at such a young age is difficult, but it is a great blessing to feel proud of myself and of everything I have achieved, and of what I am about to achieve.

    Angela also shared about her SLI experiences in virtual Meet SLI events in 2020 and 2021, and in this reflection of gratitude.

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    College update: Irais, SLI scholar

    George Wythe High School ’20
    Eastern Mennonite University ’24 (history, social work)

    College comes with many challenges and opportunities and also many experiences. I have learned many things in college, but the most important is that our actions determine our results, and that the future we create depends upon the choices and actions we take today. 

    I am thankful for all the help I have received from SLI. Everyone has dreams and goals, and SLI scholarships make things easier for many students. 

    I want the opportunity to give my best to the people I will help in the future after I graduate from college. Life sometimes can be hard but I always try to find solutions to the problems and to stay motivated when things get difficult. I believe that this always helps me and will help me in the future if I face a problem. 

    I have a strong character that helps me in tough situations and this helps me to help others. I like to read and write articles about the issues that the world faces daily. This can have a big impact on people, and I can have the opportunity to further develop this talent by taking English writing courses.

  • All Posts,  News

    SLI announces inaugural managing director

    As it celebrates its first decade as a Virginia nonprofit, Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has announced the appointment of Stephania Cervantes as its inaugural managing director.

    Cervantes will promote and execute SLI’s mission to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. 

    Through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school, plus financial support for college success.

    “I am delighted to welcome Stephania as SLI’s primary administrative leader,” said Jason Good, SLI board chair. “Her experiences in community engagement and commitment to creative collaboration across institutions will serve as a tremendous asset as SLI enters its next decade of serving remarkable young people.”

    SLI has experienced consistent growth in student membership and funding, including tripling donor financial contributions in the last five years, more than doubling investment reserves in the last two years, and increasing annual budgeted direct student financial support each year for the past five years. Since 2012 SLI has provided more than $431,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    Cervantes, a program recruiter and community liaison for the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Program at James Madison University’s Institute for Innovation in Health & Human Services and Harrisonburg resident, is a bilingual facilitator who has developed curricula and instructed at the Full Circle Montessori School in Arlington. She has participated in or led various initiatives relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion, food access, safe spaces, reparations, community mutual aid, Latinx solidarity, and access to resources. She attended Piedmont Virginia Community College and the Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola University.

    “I believe in addressing the gaps in educational opportunities available to the growing Latinx population of this region and pushing beyond the perceived expectations of what a Latinx learner can achieve,” she said. “This role presents an opportunity to reimagine an inclusive network of support, one that opens doors to help students actualize their potential and take charge of their education journeys.”

    The foundations of SLI’s mission began well before SLI’s first decade as a Virginia nonprofit. The original SLI was founded by Peter Iver Kaufman and others in 2003 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2008 Kaufman brought SLI to the University of Richmond, Virginia, and later to the Shenandoah Valley, where this organization was incorporated in 2012 and became a 501c3 public charity. Kaufman continues to serve as the SLI program director in Richmond.

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    College update: Guadalupe, SLI scholar

    Hopewell High School ’22
    Eastern Mennonite University ’26 (engineering, biology)

    Going to a university is the way to prepare me intellectually and socially for my future career. I hope it will help me develop skills and give me experiences that will lead me to find my interests and motivations to become a better version of myself.

    My dedication and responsibility have always been my forte and have led me to be the best in my class. They have taught me not to give up in any area and look for all possible solutions to a problem.

    I have always been a reserved girl, and sometimes I’m afraid to leave my trust zone, but that’s because that’s how I’ve been raised, in a humble and somewhat conformist family. My father, the sole breadwinner for a family of six children, never demanded a penny from me and much less pushed me to get a job. However, more than anything I knew that one day I would be an adult and would have to fend for myself. 

    Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew that my goal was to go to college and get a career. I tried hard to be the highest average and I did it. Neither of my parents finished high school so they couldn’t help me with my homework but with my effort and dedication, everything went well. 

    Coming to the United States complicated my life a bit, not only because of my lack of understanding of the language but also because I became my parents’ translator in areas I didn’t know, like health care, school, and laws. I was afraid of failing them or giving wrong information. It was more difficult because sometimes I had to leave my own responsibilities to help my family. 

    I am now an adult, and as difficult as it is to separate from my parents, I know that I need to find myself and finally complete my dream. I have made an effort and I hope the finances are not a problem because I really think I deserve it.

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    College update: Amy K., SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’21
    Laurel Ridge Community College ’23 (psychology, pre-physician assistant)

    The aid from SLI has helped me tremendously as a first-generation student. I have not had any financial stress as most of my peers do nor have I taken out loans or have used any other money. I get to focus more on my classes without worrying so much about how I am going to pay for next semester’s tuition. I am blessed and grateful for the opportunity SLI has given me to continue my education. Even a little can go so far for me. 

    I hope to transfer to a university next year, so I want to learn how to become the best version of myself. I realized the potential I have through college and continuing for another year at LRCC will hopefully help me understand what I am capable of. I recently took a chemistry class and it was my first time ever presenting in front of new people I didn’t already know. It was terrifying to me, but I realized that we were all on the same boat. We are all students willing to learn from one another. 

    I have been told by my peers and professors that I work well under pressure. I am not good at math, and I have often had trouble understanding some topics. But I learned that if I go up to the board and work out a problem there, I can understand it.

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    College update: Israel, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’21
    Virginia Commonwealth University ’25 (pre-law, criminal justice, homeland security)

    Watch Israel share about SLI in 2021 here

    My first semester at VCU was chaotic. Everything was happening really fast. My grandfather had passed away a few months before school started and due to covid restrictions, my family and I were unable to travel. As the start of the school year came closer (less than a month away), we had to go on a rushed trip to Mexico so that we could have our visas renewed. I returned to the U.S. with a renewed visa two days before school started. I had barely any time to process what was happening because of all of the things going on in my life at that moment. 

    During my first semester I soon realized that I was unhappy in mechanical engineering. I had felt like I had to continue the family’s line of engineers, but after a talk with my father, I felt relieved of that thought and decided to change my major to something that I am truly passionate about and feel like I can do more in. I am now double majoring in criminal justice and homeland security. My vision is to go to law school to become a lawyer. 

    I am currently an intern with one of the best attorneys in the state. I have always been attracted to the legal field, and I have a strong sense of justice and advocacy. I feel like as a lawyer I will have more power to stand up to people, and to help my community from any unjust treatment.

    My only source of income is my father. My current type of visa does not allow me to have a job. This is one of the things that have me constantly worried. Knowing that I cannot help my family financially is a big concern for me.

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    College update: Galilea, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’21
    Virginia Commonwealth University ’25

    Some of my most memorable accomplishments in high school consisted of many great activities that helped me to become a well rounded student. In the beginning of my freshman year, I joined the volleyball team, and continued through my junior year before the pandemic hit. My sophomore year, I had the opportunity to take classes to become a vet assistant, something that I became very passionate about. I also took three years of American sign language, and was able to hold a conversation with some people. 

    I also began working during my sophomore year. Working a part-time job and being a full- time student isn’t easy, and I worked very hard in both school and my job. 

    Now I am a full-time college student working a part-time job as a vet assistant at an animal hospital. It makes me feel proud knowing that my parents came to a foreign country away from their home to give their children a better life. I am where I am because of their hard work. 

    Now that I’m in college, my expectations and goals for myself are many. I’ve had the opportunity to join a club and connect with more students like myself who share the same interests. One of my goals is to come out of my shell and try new things.

    And as I continue my years in college I hope to accomplish more goals like doing outreach and learning more about how to become independent step by step. I still live with my parents, so I commute. But being on my own, driving to school and spending more time on campus, is teaching me what it is like to do things on my own. I hope to learn this new stage in my life, and to adapt to it fast.   

    I have always enjoyed writing, and being in SLI for three years helped me strengthen that ability. I am a first generation college student and the oldest child, but my parents, close friends, and amazing professors and mentors all push me to give it all my best.

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    College update: Rosely, SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’22
    George Mason University ’26 (computer science)

    Ever since I applied to be a SLI scholar, I knew two things for certain: I wanted to go to a four-year college, and I wanted to study computer science. George Mason University is the college that I chose to fulfill my biggest goals, and I’m confident I will have the tools available to stay up to date on new and evolving technologies and build my knowledge of computer science concepts and languages. Furthermore, GMU is close to the action of D.C and all surrounding areas, and I hope to have networking, internships, and work opportunities available to help me be active in the tech world. 

    I am grateful to SLI for all the help and support it’s given me and others.

    My biggest strengths are my adaptability and optimism, which will continue to help me as I enter college. The tech industry grows and involves at a rapid pace, and I need to be able to adapt to it. The pandemic forced me to become more adaptable to anything and challenged my optimism. However, I figured out how to stay optimistic by taking everything in, letting myself take breaks, and seeing the light at the end even as the world grew bitter. Whatever the industry decides to throw, I know I will be able to adapt and figure out any new technology. And when it eventually gets frustrating, I will remind myself of the light at the end of the tunnel. 

    In college having to program and find different solutions to problems will allow my creativity to grow. As an artist, I have countless drawings filling space on my hard drive, but this talent also allows me to figure out creative ways to solve a problem. Programming is all about trial and error, so even if a solution seems impractical, I still need to try it and see if it gets me anywhere. To be able to create great programs, test out features, or go bug hunting, I will need to be confident in my creativity.

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