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    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 in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, 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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    College update: Maria, SLI scholar

    Mills E. Godwin High School ’22
    Virginia Union University ’25 (English and secondary education)

    Read Maria’s 2021 interview here

    By attending college I want to learn how to be the best ESL teacher I can be. I want to learn how English is taught so I can do that well, and I plan to get a master’s degree to expand my options and make me a better educator.

    I also hope to learn more about the world and other people, and perhaps to one day also teach English in other countries. Learning history and about cultures all over the world will allow me to better connect with my students and people around me.

    My family is not able to financially support my education, so I am determined to do my very best to pay my way through college. I have a passion for learning, and will make certain to take advantage of every opportunity I am given to continue my journey. 

    My strengths are in my character and dedication toward achieving my goals. I’ve been told that I am kind and compassionate, which will help me to be a good and understanding college student and future teacher. My determination will help me to keep on track and do the best job that I can towards achieving the future I want for myself.

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    ¡10th Anniversary Tapas! tickets now available

    HARRISONBURG, Va. – ¡10th Anniversary Tapas! will celebrate Scholars Latino Initiative‘s first decade as a Virginia nonprofit supporting Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Learn all about the October 9 event – and get your tickets! – at vasli.org/tapas.

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    SLI announces endowment lead gift

    HARRISONBURG, Va. – Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has announced that it will establish an endowment at the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County with a lead gift of $100,000 from Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr. of Winchester, Virginia.

    Gerald F. Smith, Jr.

    The endowment will help sustain SLI’s mission of supporting Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Additional SLI Endowment gifts that meet contribution minimums are welcome.

    “Each year for many years, SLI scholars have benefited from the Smith family’s generosity,” said Jason Good, SLI board chair. “Now, thanks to J.J.’s foresight in establishing this endowment to continue his support in perpetuity, many more will also be able to attend college.”

    Smith, until recently the president and CEO of Valley Proteins, was celebrated as a Community Star in 2020 by the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley. He serves on the board of directors of First Bank and was honored recently as a trustee emeritus of Shenandoah University, a SLI partner.

    A 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, since 2012 providing more than $380,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    This year SLI is celebrating its 10th year as a Virginia corporation, but the foundations of SLI’s mission began well before SLI’s first decade. 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. 

  • HHS SLI 2022
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    SLI grads name college picks

    Pictured: Harrisonburg High School’s 2022 SLI cohort

    HARRISONBURG, Va., June 15, 2022 – Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) scholars graduating from high school have named their university choices.

    Among the colleges and universities selected by the cohort of 18 students – six in Harrisonburg, eight in Richmond, and four in Winchester – are:

    • Bridgewater College
    • Eastern Mennonite University
    • J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College
    • James Madison University
    • John Tyler Community College
    • Laurel Ridge Community College
    • Old Dominion University
    • University of Virginia
    • Virginia Union University

    Their anticipated fields of study include computer science, history, nursing, social work, pre-dentistry, and pre-veterinary sciences.

    “SLI produces new opportunities for Latinx students facing struggles during the college process,” said Janefer, a SLI scholar graduating from Harrisonburg High School. “SLI opens new doors by not only helping us pay our dual enrollment tuition to obtain college credits while in high school, but also by challenging us to serve the community without receiving anything back.”

    At a SLI graduation celebration in Richmond, scholars and their families were addressed by Rubi, a SLI alumna who now works for Gartner, Inc. 

    “SLI gave me and my parents hope, and reinforced my belief that if I was dedicated and determined to fight my way through, I could actually go to college,” she said. “I knew that graduating from college would help level the playing field for me as a Latina in the professional world, and I’m proud to say that thanks to my education and the invaluable support I’ve received throughout the years from the SLI family, I now have an amazing job in Washington, DC at the world’s leading IT research and business advisory firm.”

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