• All Posts,  Richmond,  Scholar Features

    Meet Guadalupe, SLI scholar

    Guadalupe (Hopewell High School ’22) is pursuing an engineering degree at Eastern Mennonite University, where she is the driver for the Super-Mileage Car club. Watch and read her 2023 interview below, and see her share during Meet SLI – Richmond in 2021.

    How do you think going to college will change your life?

    I expect to have more opportunities [with a college degree]. Most of my siblings or even my parents did not finish high school, so they don’t have a GED or anything. My dad and my brothers all work construction, so it’s a heavy job, and I feel like they have worked a lot for me to have what I have right now. I expect that [my] opportunities will give me the economy to help them as well, give it back, because that’s what they did for me.

    SLI was so helpful in general, because I was in Mexico my whole life, so when I came here I was not familiar with the educational system. It’s completely different. I didn’t know about the SATs or the FAFSA. The college application process was totally unfamiliar for me. None of my siblings or parents went to college, so they didn’t know how the process goes, either.

    When I joined SLI they helped me through all those steps and also implemented other things, like writings. The writings were really hard, but these assignments prepared me for what we do here [in college]. So I can say that SLI is a really big factor on me getting to college and on me.

    How old were you when you came from Mexico?

    I was turning 15. I started freshman year, but I think it was because the school system is completely different. I think I took a year extra. I’m grateful for that because SLI accepts freshman students and I was a freshman there.

    Going to college was always my goal ever since I remember. In elementary school I always wanted to go to college. My parents always supported that. When I was a little kid I really enjoyed doing math homework and stuff, but sometimes I didn’t have homework so I just put homework to myself and was working on my homework, and my mom was like, “Why would you do that? You have your all-free day, and you prefer to put yourself some homework?” I was like, “I don’t know, I just enjoy it.”

    Now I hope for less homework.

    I decided to come here [to EMU] because I was like I need a little independence now, because I am an adult already and if I would be really close [to home] they will probably still keep me like a little kid right there. Two hours and a half is not bad because I can drive whenever I want to come back.

    I’m taking calculus, stats, experimental methods – a lot of physics and labs, and programming. I was the type of person that kind of wanted to do something but was scared of it, so I was like “No, at this point I have to join various things.”

    What are some things you are involved in?

    Super-Mileage Car is a club. I joined when I was a freshman and it was like only boys and just me, but they were really nice and they were like trying to explain me through the steps, or if I needed, they would assign me something and help me out with that, so it was really nice.

    Since I’m the shortest one I am the driver. Being the driver is kind of like, “Oh, I have their entire project in my hands.”

    In the fall we built this car and then in April we went to the competition. We passed inspection the second day I believe, and we got to the road, so that was something really fun. Now I decided to continue, to stick with it, and we’re going to do it again.

    I am part of CAC (the campus activities council) and LSA, which is a Latino Student Alliance. I am a co-historian there. We usually just try to spread our culture and make some events that will be enjoyable for the school.

    Even though it’s kind of stressful sometimes, I’m just trying to have this balance between my social life and my educational life, because if you concentrate more on one than the other, you probably will have a lot of stress and that’s not good.

    Has college been surprising in any way for you?

    I did not have an idea exactly of what I expected for college because I’m the first generation of my family, so nobody really told me about anything. We get to do a lot of fun things and even interact sometimes with the teachers and students, like we are all getting along together.

    So it’s really nice, really comfortable.

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  Richmond,  SLI News,  Winchester

    $43,000 to match donations during SLI’s year-end campaign

    During SLI’s 2023 year-end campaign, donations are doubled, matched by $43,000 from the SLI Founder’s Fund, the Open Hearts Foundation, and anonymous donors, while funds last.

    Contributions can be made at vasli.org/donate or mailed to SLI, PO Box 1245, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22803, and will help make SLI’s mission possible: to support Latinx students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships.

    SLI scholars experience unique circumstances as in many cases first-generation college students; as talented but often invisible individuals; as children from families that are disproportionately under-resourced and disenfranchised; and as members of a growing population in Virginia and the U.S. that is underrepresented on college campuses. 

    Support for navigating these obstacles is vital for reaping the long-term benefits of a college education: Higher education is linked to increased wellbeing and better health; first-generation college students give their own children increased college opportunities; adults with higher education are more likely to engage with friends, family, and neighbors for greater wellbeing and resilience; highly educated adults are more likely to vote, volunteer, and donate; for college grads, work fits better with their talents and interested; and college grads earn $1 million more in their working years than other adults. 

    SLI programming is collaborative between high school faculty and staff and university faculty, staff, and students who mentor the participating high school students. Events include “college days” that offer networking opportunities for students. SLI alumni are also invited to maintain connection with each other through the new SLI Alumni Association virtual group, and to continue to share their developing stories with the SLI community.

    SLI’s mission has been sustained through the generosity of its ORGANIZACIONES ALIADAS, which includes many individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Jennifer, SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’21
    William & Mary ’25 (public health with a data science focus)

    Growing up, education was one of my main concerns. As a first-generation low-income student, I was more focused on basic needs like money, housing, and food. I faced countless obstacles, including growing up in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and constantly being in survival mode. Despite these challenges, I always found solace in books and education. I don’t share my story for pity, but rather as a source of empowerment and to help others who have been through similar situations. 

    I am not the oldest in my family, but out of my seven siblings, I am the first to attend college. I understood from the start that I had to be a role model for my younger siblings, as my older siblings faced difficulties due to the circumstances we grew up in. So, it was up to me to navigate college independently, discover which organizations and clubs to get involved in, and figure out the process of applying for financial aid through FAFSA. 

    My first inclination to pursue higher education arose when I enrolled in the gifted program during my elementary school years. The teachers and individuals in the program served as my primary sources of inspiration. Through their guidance, I acquired crucial information, enhanced my public speaking skills, attended mandatory meetings, and engaged in volunteer work with children. 

    Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) significantly facilitated my path towards accessing college education. Not only did the program equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me. Often, students from underrepresented backgrounds experience feelings of displacement or inadequacy. I would say SLI encouraged me to apply for other Hispanic college programs, volunteer opportunities, and colleges because it made me feel worthy of these opportunities. 

    When it came to selecting a college, I faced challenges as self-doubt crept in while filling out applications. Additionally, I found myself torn between the idea of venturing far away or remaining in Virginia. In the end, I made the decision to stay in Virginia and exclusively applied to schools within the state. Despite receiving a full-ride offer from my dream school, Washington & Lee, I ultimately chose William & Mary. Interestingly enough, I applied to W&M on a whim at the last minute and ended up being accepted as a W&M scholar, which granted me a full tuition and fees scholarship. 

    I am grateful that I chose to further my studies at W&M because they provided me with an abundance of resources that I never imagined possible. During my first year, I had to withdraw for medical reasons, but the school was incredibly supportive. They offered networking opportunities, organizations like the First Generation and Low Income Group, WMSURE (which is part of the W&M scholars program), academic support, and mental health resources. 

    Unlike high school, where I had to work full time and balance multiple responsibilities, I no longer have to do that because W&M meets 100% of demonstrated need. I am particularly thankful that SLI taught me that it’s okay to ask for help because at W&M, everyone is always willing to offer support. Currently, I am working towards my undergraduate degree in public health with a focus on data science. I have upcoming meetings and internship opportunities lined up. In the future, I hope to pursue research in Latino health disparities or become a public health analyst after completing graduate school. I will forever be grateful to SLI for believing in me when nobody else did.

  • All Posts,  Events,  SLI News

    Merienda ’23 celebrates SLI

    HARRISONBURG, VA – It may have been a rainy late summer day, but the Merienda ’23 celebration of SLI’s mission – to support Latinx high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships – was an evening not to be missed.

    The 2023 version of SLI’s annual event, Merienda recognized the successes of SLI scholars, as well as the generous support from community businesses, organizations, foundations, and individuals that makes possible SLI’s ever-increasing impact. A full list of event sponsors is below.

    “Not only did [SLI] equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me,” recalls Jennifer, a SLI scholar now studying public health and data science at William & Mary. “Often, students from underrepresented backgrounds experience feelings of displacement or inadequacy. I would say SLI encouraged me to apply for other Hispanic college programs, volunteer opportunities, and colleges because it made me feel worthy of these opportunities.”

    Since its incorporation in 2012 SLI has awarded students from Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester more than $545,000 in college scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment and Advanced Placement tuition assistance, including $143,000 in awards this summer alone. Its alumni have attended 24 colleges and universities. Watch SLI Beginnings

    “At Merienda ’23 we not only marked the start of Latino Heritage month, but we also recognized the tremendous accomplishments of our students and those who help make it all possible – nuestra comunidad del Valle de Shenandoah,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director.

    The event, which netted nearly $22,000 for SLI’s mission, featured locally sourced meriendas such as pupusas, empanadas, tamales, tres leches cake, churros, and much more; wine and local beers; coffee and hot chocolate con canela; dancing to the live “Mexilachian” music of Lua Project; SLI swag; and raffle prizes, all at Sunny Slope Farm.

    During the event Virginia Latino Higher Education Network president and former SLI board member Karina Kline-Gabel (below left) presented SLI managing director Stephania Cervantes and SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya with micro-grants for SLI scholars to help purchase college supplies.

    Photo by Karla Hernandez

    Support for Merienda ’23 came from the many people who purchased tickets as well as many generous sponsors:

    Photo by Noemi Clymer Kurtz
  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  Scholar Features,  SLI News

    Madison Magazine: Student shadows doctors in Italy during summer fellowship

    By Amy Crockett in Madison Magazine; photo courtesy Eliana Diaz-Aceituno – When Eliana Diaz-Aceituno learned of her acceptance into the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program, she didn’t know just how in-depth her summer experience would be. On her first day at IRCCS MultiMedica hospital in Milan, a doctor performed an amputation in front of her. READ THE ARTICLE

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  Richmond,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI otorga $ 143,000 este verano para becas universitarias, tecnología

    Sentara Health y F&M Bank ayudan con los gastos académicos en carreras de salud y negocios;
    JustPax Fund y Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation apoyan la compra de computadoras para estudiantes universitarios de primer año

    Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has awarded $143,000 in financial aid to 32 graduating scholars and SLI alumni from Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester who are attending college this fall. These new awards and previous SLI financial support for students since 2012 now total more than $535,000. 

    Los premios de este verano incluyen $87,000 para una beca universitaria de $6,000 y un premio de computadora de $1,250 para cada uno de los 12 becarios de SLI al ingresar a su primer año de universidad (vasli.org/grads), más $56,000 en becas SLI Raíces Brillantes para 20 ex alumnos de la organización SLI. 

    Junto con muchas personas, empresas, fundaciones y organizaciones adicionales en la comunidad de apoyo de SLI, los financiadores de becas incluyen Sentara Health y F&M Bank, y los financiadores de premios informáticos incluyen JustPax Fund y Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation.

    La misión de SLI es apoyar a los estudiantes latinos/a/x de secundaria con acceso a la universidad a través de desafíos académicos rigurosos, desarrollo de liderazgo, becas y consejeria estudiantil. A través de colaboraciones con el cuerpo docente, los estudiantes de la universidad y la escuela secundaria, SLI brinda oportunidades de acceso a la universidad durante toda la escuela secundaria. 

    SLI apoya financieramente a sus estudiantes a través de becas universitarias, asistencia para comprar la tecnología necesaria para comenzar la universidad y asistencia con la matrícula para tomar cursos universitarios de inscripción doble y cursos AP mientras están en la escuela secundaria.

    Desde 2012, SLI ha servido a 159 estudiantes académicos, incluidos 46 actuales y 113 ex alumnos. Antes de este verano, ya había pagado más de $392,000 en apoyo financiero para los becarios de SLI, que ahora habrán asistido a 24 colegios y universidades.

    “Es un honor para SLI apoyar a los estudiantes en su búsqueda de educación universitaria”, dijo Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., presidente de la junta directiva de SLI y decano asociado del Honors College en la Universidad James Madison. “Estamos orgullosos de nuestros becarios y agradecidos por el apoyo de Sentara, F&M Bank, JustPax Fund, Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation, y muchos otros en nuestras comunidades que han donado generosamente para otorgar estas becas y premios de tecnología.”

    Eighteen of the scholarships awarded this summer are in part funded by Sentara, which provided $30,000 for Sentara SLI Scholar College Awards for students pursuing health related studies and careers (vasli.org/sentara). Estos destinatarios incluyen a:

    • Adriana Irene Gonzalez Salinas (John Handley High School '22) está estudiando administración de información de salud en Laurel Ridge Community College (vasli.org/adrianags)
    • Amy Jui-Arteaga (John Handley ’21) estudiará biología y español en la Universidad de Shenandoah (vasli.org/amyja)
    • Andrea Santiago Calixto (Harrisonburg High School '23) estudiará ciencias de laboratorio clínico en Eastern Mennonite University
    • Axel Vega-Mancinas (John Handley ’23) estudiará neurociencia/premedicina en la Universidad de Harvard (vasli.org/axel)
    • Consuelo Elizabeth “Elly” Mazariegos Agustín (John Handley ’16) estudia enfermería en la Universidad de Shenandoah (vasli.org/elly)
    • Everth Daniel Hernandez-Ventura (John Handley ’21) estudia enfermería en la Universidad de Shenandoah (vasli.org/everth)
    • Galilea Gallardo-Mena (Huguenot High School ’21) estudia psicología en Virginia Commonwealth University (vasli.org/galilea)
    • Gedalia García (John Handley ’22) estudia enfermería y psicología en Old Dominion University (vasli.org/gedalia)
    • Helen Duarte Guerrero (Harrisonburg ’23) estudiará ciencias biológicas e ingeniería biomédica en Virginia Tech
    • Helen Rivera Rivas (Harrisonburg ’21) estudiará ciencias de la salud, terapia ocupacional y español médico en la Universidad James Madison
    • Hillary Dayami Estrada Alvarado (Harrisonburg ’23) estudiará biología/premedicina en la Universidad de Virginia
    • Janefer Lobo Funez (Harrisonburg ’22) is studying biology and medical Spanish at James Madison University (vasli.org/janefer)
    • Johana Alvarenga Cruz (Harrisonburg ’22) is studying nursing at Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/johana)
    • Kristy Rios Ramos (Harrisonburg ’23) will study nursing at University of Virginia
    • Leydy Ayala Arteaga (John Handley ’20) estudia patología del habla en Laurel Ridge Community College
    • Lindsey Ruvalcaba (Harrisonburg ’23) will study biotech science at Blue Ridge Community College
    • Marvin Alexander Rivera Martinez (Harrisonburg '22) estudia ingeniería informática en la Universidad de Virginia (vasli.org/alex)
    • Yeyhlin Velasquez Zavala (John Handley ’23) will study biology/pre-medicine at Hollins University (vasli.org/yeyhlin)

    Tres becas cuentan con el apoyo de F&M Bank, que otorgó $15,000 para los premios F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Awards para estudiantes que buscan carreras comerciales y empresariales (vasli.org/fmbank). Estos destinatarios incluyen a:

    • Amy Vargas Aguillon (Handley ’21) is studying accounting and philosophy at University of Pittsburgh (vasli.org/amy)
    • Ariana Yoselyn Hernandez Perez (Harrisonburg ’23) will study business and economics at University of Virginia
    • Naomi Rosas Conde (Harrisonburg ’23) estudiará administración y comercialización de empresas en la Universidad James Madison

    Los ganadores adicionales de becas universitarias SLI incluyen:

    • Adriana Ayala (John Handley ’18) estudia ciencias ambientales en la Universidad George Mason
    • Ariana Pérez (John Handley ’23) estudiará educación en Laurel Ridge Community College (vasli.org/ariana)
    • Ariel Morales Bonilla (Huguenot '20) está estudiando ciencias políticas, historia y español en Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/ariel)
    • Irais Barrera Pinzon (George Wythe High School ’21) estudia ciencias políticas/pregrado en derecho en Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/irais)
    • Israel (Huguenot '21) está estudiando justicia penal, seguridad nacional y ciencias políticas en la Virginia Commonwealth University (vasli.org/israel)
    • Guadalupe Tenorio Ramirez (Hopewell High School ’22) estudia ingeniería en Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/guadalupe)
    • Jimena Marquez-Marquez (John Handley '23) estudiará ciencias políticas en Dickinson College (vasli.org/jimena)
    • Noel Ayala-Gallo (Harrisonburg '21) está estudiando relaciones exteriores, política pública y liderazgo, y astronomía en la Universidad de Virginia (vasli.org/noel)
    • Keiry Lazo (Harrisonburg ’23) estudiará ciencias políticas en la Universidad de Virginia (vasli.org/keiry)
    • Raquel Pérez Torrico (John Handley ’21) estudia informática y diseño de paginas web en la Universidad Adventista de Washington (vasli.org/raquelpt)
    • Rosely Alvarado Villegas (John Handley ’22) estudia informática en la Universidad George Mason (vasli.org/roselyav)

  • All Posts,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Alvarez, Maquera to lead SLI program in Winchester

    SLI has named teacher Jeffer Alvarez and school counselor Lara Maquera as its program directors at John Handley High School in Winchester.

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

    “Based on my personal experience, studying at college and my masters have given me the chance to go way beyond what I expected when I began my career,” said Alvarez, an English as a Second Language teacher who has taught for more than 18 years to second graders through twelfth graders in public and private schools. “I am super excited about this new role with SLI as I can guide students’ processes, and support them into making the best life-changing decisions.”  

    Incorporated in 2012 and a 501c3 nonprofit since 2013, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    “I look forward to getting to know students better while helping them to pursue their academic and career goals,” said Maquera,  who has also been a teacher and school librarian and whose professional goals include sharing the love of literacy and education with youth.

    This summer alone SLI awarded $143,000 in college scholarships and computer awards for students attending college this fall. These new awards and previous SLI financial support for students since 2012 now total more than $535,000. 

    SLI is funded by many individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations. In June 2022 SLI announced the establishment of its endowment made possible by a lead gift from Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr., and the Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation has funded many SLI computer awards to help Handley students begin college with the technology they need for success. 

    The previous SLI program directors at Handley were Spanish teachers Ruth Espinoza de Arteaga and Ileana Escalante, who also co-sponsored the student club Latinos Unidos. For students like SLI scholar Ariana, who graduated from Handley in 2023 and will attend Laurel Ridge Community College this fall, they were “a big help and support” in the process of becoming a first-generation college student.

    “‘Go for what you want,’” she recalls them encouraging her. “‘You’ve done a lot already, and you will continue doing great things.’” [Watch Ariana’s SLI interview at vasli.org/ariana]

    “I am grateful for all that Ruth and Ileana did for SLI scholars,” said Veronique Walker, SLI board member and the equity and family empowerment coordinator for Winchester Public Schools. “Their legacies will continue to unfold both in the lives of the SLI scholars they helped go to college and in the ongoing role of SLI to support future college students and community leaders in Winchester. I am excited for this next chapter of SLI at Handley under Lara’s and Jeffer’s leadership.”

    SLI is “a very rewarding activity,” said Espinoza. “I am really pleased that both Lara and Jeffer have stepped out to continue this great program” at Handley.

    “I am confident that they will do a wonderful job at supporting and encouraging our scholars in their journey through high school as they make crucial decisions about their future,” said Escalante. “¡Buena suerte!”

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  SLI News

    Harrisonburg SLI scholars provide face painting and fun at el Festival Hispano

    In what has become a tradition, the 2023 Hispanic Festival in Harrisonburg featured face painting a fun provided by SLI scholars.

    Since 2018, SLI scholars from Harrisonburg High School have offered leadership and service at Harrisonburg’s Festival Hispano by hosting the children’s play, arts, and crafts center. Participating SLI scholars included rising juniors and seniors Abygail, Amy, Angely, Aylen, Eiby, Javier, Kevin, Natalie, and Nayaly. They were led by SLI program directors Carlos Alemán, associate professor of communication studies at JMU, and Hannah Bowman Hrasky, an English teacher at HHS.

    Held by Comite Salvadoreno Paisanos Unidos (COSPU), the festival also included live performances of Latino music and folk dance, authentic Latino cuisine, and exhibits showcasing talented Hispanic artists. COSPU’s goal is to empower immigrant families through support, and the advocacy of changes that benefits immigrants.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Ariana, SLI scholar

    Ariana (John Handley High School/Millbrook High School ’23) plans to attend Laurel Ridge Community College and become a teacher.

    How did you decide to become a teacher?

    In one of my teaching classes, Teachers for Tomorrow, we had to go spend 40 hours in a classroom. It definitely made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do.

    How does it feel to be finished with high school?

    I was so excited for graduation, but I was so sad because I was like, “Well, now I have to adult. Like, that’s a thing now. I gotta move on.” Then it clicked in my head and I was like, “Wait, I just graduated. Like, you’re done with high school.” That’s weird.

    What would you like to tell about your family?

    I grew up here. I was born here. My mom grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland. My dad immigrated from Mexico, and then same thing with my stepmom. So definitely like we get a little bit of every piece.

    I have two older siblings. One lives on her own and she has her own little family, and then I have an older brother and he’s a full-time college student, and then I have my stepsister, my little sister, another brother, and then I have a younger brother who’s gonna go into kindergarten.

    What have you learned about yourself as you’ve prepared for college?

    It’s difficult being a first gen [college student], your parents not knowing the college process or anything like that, and seeking ways to find help or get the help that’s needed to go through college, or find those resources.

    I think I definitely learned to go for it. Realize that you’ve done a lot already so you will continue doing great things. Seeing myself now and then seeing my younger self is just like, “You did it. You can keep doing it.”

    I’m a big role model for my younger siblings, so I’m hoping that they can see my footsteps and maybe follow into them, or even do better things.

    I always think life’s a plant: You’re that one seed at one point in life, and you’re like never gonna stop growing. You’re not gonna always be perfect, but perfectly imperfect.