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

    SLI board of directors welcomes new members, leadership

    Pictured from left: Lourdes Sandoval, MSW, and Andrea Smith, Ph.D., are new members of the Scholars Latino Initiative board of directors, and Carlos Alemán, Ph.D., is the new vice chair.

    The college-access nonprofit Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has welcomed two members to its board of directors, and appointed a new vice chair. 

    SLI’s mission is to support 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.

    The new directors are Lourdes Sandoval, MSW, of Reston and Andrea Meador Smith, Ph.D., of Winchester, and the newly appointed vice chair is Carlos Alemán, Ph.D, of Harrisonburg. They have diverse backgrounds in higher education and social services. 

    “Supporting SLI’s mission through board service means providing opportunities for our youth to achieve their dreams as future leaders!” said Sandoval, a senior case manager at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, where she has also served as senior accounting coordinator and refugee health education and outreach liaison. She earned her master of social work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor of science in public health with a minor in human services from West Virginia University. 

    Smith is associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Shenandoah University, where she is also Professor of Hispanic Studies and serves as an NCAA faculty athletics representative.

    “I first learned about SLI 10 years ago, when I started recommending my students to serve as mentors,” she said. “I have been fortunate to work with vibrant, committed, and successful students from SLI since then, and am excited to further support SLI’s mission by joining the board. I look forward to getting to know the many promising Handley High School students and their leaders in the months ahead.”

    Smith’s current research addresses representations of race and gender in Latin American film, and at the local level, she is a film screener and board member for Skyline Indie Film Fest. She has also been a faculty member for Semester At Sea and a Spanish instructor at the University of Virginia, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Spanish, a master of teaching in Spanish and English as a Second Language, and a doctorate in Spanish. She studied abroad as an undergraduate and did doctoral research at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

    Alemán is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at James Madison University and has served as a SLI board member and program director since 2012. He received his doctorate in communication studies at the University of Iowa and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech communication at California State University in Fresno. 

    “SLI scholars are changing the world as they grow into leaders, artists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scientists – and that inspires all of us to stay true to our mission,” he said. “Walking with these first-generation students as they embrace the challenges and opportunities of college access opens our eyes to the beauty of their will and the strengths of our communities.”

    SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., associate dean of the Honors College at James Madison University, welcomed the experiences and expertise that Sandoval and Smith bring to their new board service, and the opportunity to share board leadership with Alemán. 

    “As SLI continues its second decade, we look forward to continuing our young legacy of supporting students in our communities who are pursuing life-changing college access,” she said.

    Since 2012 SLI has served 180 scholars (67 current and 113 alumni) and awarded more than $542,000 in financial support for students  in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 24 colleges and universities.

    “Not only did [SLI] equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me,” said Jennifer, a SLI scholar who graduated from John Handley High School and is 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.”

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

    SLI releases annual report

    Download the report (pdf) HERE

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

    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.

  • 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,  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)

    Three scholarships are in part funded by F&M Bank, which has provided $15,000 for F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Awards for students pursuing business and entrepreneur-related studies and careers (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,  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,  Harrisonburg,  Scholar Features

    Meet Keiry, SLI scholar

    As she nears her first year of college, SLI scholar Keiry (Harrisonburg High School ’23, University of Virginia ’25) talks about how she’s grown as a person over the last four years. At UVA she will study political science on a pre-law track.

    Congrats on graduating from high school! How are you feeling about going to college?

    When I first started SLI I was like I know I want to go to college. We went through the steps. [SLI program directors] Dr. Alemán and Ms. Bowman helped me through it. Whenever anything came up, I could go to Wednesday SLI or I could go to Saturday SLI and I could be like, “Hey, this is happening.” 

    I love meeting new people. I love talking to new people. And I love school. That is my biggest goal: becoming super involved with the campus my first year. 

    It’s going to be a whole new environment. I’ve been to UVA, I’ve toured the campus, but it’s not the same as living there and being a full-time student there. That’s definitely scary to think about because I’m not even going to be in – like my family’s here. This will be the first time [living away from my family]. 

    What do you plan to study?

    Already getting my associate degree before graduating from high school has definitely helped because it puts me a little bit ahead of my class, since I already got my gen-eds out of the way. I’m studying political science under the pre-law track. Right now I’m kind of set on immigration law. As an immigrant myself, it feels like I have to give back, especially with how much support my own community has given me now. 

    How have you grown as a person over the last few years?

    When I think back to my freshman self I think back to a girl that was scared, honestly. I was so shy. 

    One thing that really helped with SLI is that Dr. Alemán involves you. He’ll ask you questions directly, and he’ll put you on the spot, and while at first that was terrifying – I was like, “Why would you do that to me? I’m so shy!” – but now as I look back it definitely helped because it took me out of my shell. 

    All of the junior SLI were able to plan and host a social event where everyone else – all the mentors from JMU and all the younger students – could come. That was the first time I’ve ever been put in a leadership position without any interference from a teacher. Ever since then whenever there’s anything that needs to be taken charge of, I’m there, and I’ll do it. It doesn’t matter, put me there and I’ll do it, I’ll figure it out. If you would have done that to me my freshman year, I would have panicked. I would have been like, “I can’t do it, give it to someone else. I can’t do it.”

    I think the biggest change about me that I’ve seen is how much into myself I’ve grown, how much into a leader – and the confidence I’ve grown in the past four years.

    What are some other ways SLI has supported you?

    We would have social events where Dr. Alemán would be like, “This is your time to network, to talk to people that may help you in the future, could help you.” 

    I got to interact with so many professors. I got to know this professor that teaches law and he was just telling me, “If you ever need help, here’s my email.” Now I have these different people that I can go to if something were to arise. 

    Do you think your siblings will go to college, too?

    I know that my parents do have aspirations that both of my brothers do end up going to college, especially since I’ve paved the way and I can help them in retrospect. In the future, when they apply to college, and when they’re going through high school, I can be like, “Hey, do this, do that. Don’t make the same mistakes I made.”

    I think it’s really important finding out who I am. Obviously I’m not going to know for sure for sure, like I have a good idea of who I am and who the person I’ve become is, but I know that as time goes my frontal lobe is going to develop. I’m going to obviously mature a lot more. Even if I think I’m mature now, I know in a few years I’m going to look back and be like, “Why did you do that?” I think that’s definitely a part of growing, and seeing who you become. 

    Who is someone who has encouraged you?

    Someone who definitely helped me and pushed me was [my high school counselor] Ms. Weaver. Every time that I felt like I simply could not do it, I would go talk to Ms. Weaver and she would be like, “Well, you can. You’re already here. You can continue. You’ve been doing it for the past three years.” I know I went to Ms. Weaver so many times throughout like my junior and my senior year. 

    How are college finances looking for you?

    Even with scholarships I still have to pay some of the money for UVA out of pocket. It’s a manageable amount, so obviously I don’t want to get a loan out, because I know paying that off is going to take a while. I’ve heard people be like, “Yeah I got a loan for college and I’m still paying it off and I’m in my 40s right now,” and I’m like, “No.” 

    I know for my first year I have enough to cover a lot of it, like I can pay half of it my first semester, and then continue working and pay the rest of it off my second semester. 

    I know that I’m going to make my education worth it, if I have the money to go. I appreciate my community so much for everything that they do and like everything that they offer to us.

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI scholar high school graduates announce college plans

    Twelve SLI scholars have graduated from high school this spring and announced their fall college plans, bringing the total number of SLI alumni to 113.

    Four SLI scholars graduated from Winchester-area high schools this year and are pictured above (left to right): Axel (who plans to attend Harvard University; vasli.org/axel), Yeyhlin (Hollins University; vasli.org/yeyhlin), and Jimena (Dickinson College; vasli.org/jimena) from John Handley High School, and Ariana (Laurel Ridge Community College; vasli.org/ariana) from Millbrook High School.

    Eight SLI scholars graduated from Harrisonburg High School and are pictured below: Hillary (University of Virginia), Ariana (UVA), Andrea (Eastern Mennonite University), Kristy (UVA), Lindsey (Blue Ridge Community College), Naomi (James Madison University), Keiry (UVA; vasli.org/keiry), and Helen (Virginia Tech).

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg

    Harrisonburg SLI photo roundup: April-May, 2023

    Among other activities this spring, SLI in Harrisonburg participated in the JMU Latinx Student Alliance Celebración Latina plus celebrated its graduating scholars with a potluck and piñata.

    Eight SLI scholars graduated from Harrisonburg High School this spring: Hillary (who will attend University of Virginia), Ariana (UVA), Andrea (Eastern Mennonite University), Kristy (UVA), Lindsey (Blue Ridge Community College), Naomi (James Madison University), Keiry (UVA), and Helen (Virginia Tech). In addition, four SLI scholars graduated from Winchester-area high schools.

    SLI activities such as offering arts and crafts during the Comite Salvadoreno Paisanos Unidos Festival Hispano provide valuable leadership and community service opportunities.

    “I think the biggest change about me that I’ve seen is how much into myself I’ve grown, how much into a leader – and the confidence I’ve grown in the past four years,” said Keiry (HHS ’23, UVA ’25) in an interview, recalling a junior-year experience planning a SLI event. “That was the first time I’ve ever been put in a leadership position without any interference from a teacher. Ever since then whenever there’s anything that needs to be taken charge of, I’m there, and I’ll do it.”

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