• All Posts,  Scholar Features,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Meet Axel, SLI scholar: “It’s like going from zero to 100, from my parents having no college to me getting into Harvard with a full ride.”

    An interview with SLI scholar Axel (John Handley High School ’23, Harvard University ’27), whose college plans came together this spring.

    What are you planning to study at Harvard University?

    I plan to concentrate in neuroscience, most likely on the premed track. I’m pretty sure I want to become a doctor – maybe a cardiologist – but I’m keeping an open mind about different specialties.  

    Is anyone in your family working in a medical field? Why neuroscience?

    No, but neuroscience is a good connection between biology and psychology, and is somewhat interesting to me because my grandma had Alzheimer’s before she passed. It’s also cool to see how different cultures behave and see things so differently. The U.S has its own standards and beliefs, but at home in Mexico there’s a whole different set of standards, and there’s this conflict between what’s right and what’s wrong, and what’s offensive and what’s not offensive when it comes to things like eye contact or body language or certain actions.

    Neuroscience goes more into the biology of the brain that can possibly explain how the brain develops differently in different environments. In some of my classes we studied how there’s a prime stage for learning and then after a certain point you can still learn but not as fully as if you had learned it when you were younger. I wonder what else relates to that.

    A hypothesis I have is about polarization, especially with social media and how maybe algorithms give in to confirmation bias and then that just takes society further apart. I wonder if that has any physiological impacts on the brain and could turn people closed-minded.

    What was it like to learn that you were accepted into Harvard with a full ride?

    First I had an interview with a Harvard alumnus. That was extremely nerve-wracking, but I thought it went pretty well. Then a few days later I got an email saying I had a second interview, with my admissions officer. So I was like, “Okay, maybe I have a chance.” That interview went even better, but it was still a surprise when I found out I got in.

    The decision came out around 7 p.m., but I knew I wanted to be with my family to open the application portal message and my sister didn’t get out of work until later. So I waited for her to get home and then my whole family and I got together in my room and opened it. Once I saw “Congratulations” I was like, “I got in!” and then we started hugging each other and celebrating.

    After we finished hugging it out and everything, I set up a login for the second portal, for financial aid, and it was there that I found out that I got a full ride.

    My parents are pretty proud of me because they didn’t get to go to college because they didn’t have the money or the resources in Mexico, and so they brought us here for that. It’s kind of like going from zero to 100, from my parents having no college to me getting into Harvard with a full ride.

    Are you nervous?

    Now? No, I’m excited! Harvard has this event called Visitas towards the end of April for admitted students to get to know campus. I’m pretty excited because I’ll be flying out to Boston on my own, and Harvard’s paying for the plane ticket, too. We get to be hosted by a current student in a dorm for one night, but we don’t get our actual housing assignments until July.

    What do you think made your college application stand out?

    I know that it’s important to view things in a broader context and to have situations of selflessness, of having a purpose and finding something that is a passion. For me that’s advocacy for LGBTQ student rights, which is a matter of human rights.

    I’m the president of the HEROIS club, which stands for Helping Educate Regarding Orientation and Identity on the Spectrum. It’s mainly to help create a safe space for LGBTQ students at Handley, so some of what we do are community building events. I’m also the Winchester chapter lead for the Pride Liberation Project. It’s not school affiliated, but it’s a student-led organization in Virginia that advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights. The main topic in the past year has been rights for trans students. We organized around 100 walkouts across Virginia last September, including at Handley.

    At Harvard they have what’s called the Office of BGLTQ Student Life. I still have more to learn about it, but I’m definitely looking to be involved with that.

    There’s also being well-rounded. I did a number of different things in school: speech, debate, and wrestling, and I was a student rep for the school board along with another student. 

    Wrestling was funny because it kind of surprised people because I don’t seem like the type of person who would wrestle. The pandemic kind of got me to join wrestling because I felt like I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and while I wasn’t good at wrestling, I still made small improvements. And I definitely got out of my comfort zone. 

    Wrestling really pushes you because it’s you and one other person and no one else. It’s kind of a fight for dominance.

    Would you describe yourself as a competitive person?

    No. It’s funny, but no. I lost every single match, but I still kept going. I might have cried sometimes, I might have gotten upset, but I didn’t quit. With other competitions, like with forensics and debate, I mainly just did stuff for fun and didn’t really get too deep into the competition.

    It seemed like every year something always happened where I had to be out for an extended period. The first year I was out for a month because I had to quarantine because my mom had COVID, and then after she had it I had it, so that was like a whole month of being out. Coming back there wasn’t really much left of the season.

    Then my second year of wrestling, my uncle died so I was gone for three weeks because the funeral was out in Arizona. We flew out before we even had a date for the funeral, so we were just there waiting. And then this year I went out again, but just for a vacation to Arizona and Mexico, because my parents were thinking after my uncle died that they only make an effort to go and see family once they’ve passed, and instead they should make an effort to see more family when they’re living.

    So you still have family that you visit in Mexico?

    Yes. It really puts things in perspective, that my parents left their family for us to get an education and they’re still away from their family, and I’m almost ready to graduate. They’re getting older, so they’re talking about when they retire they’re going to go back to Mexico knowing that they did their job: They got us an education, they worked, got us a roof, food, everything.

    When we go to visit Mexico it’s a massive difference, seeing how different they are, overall more happy, so I think it’s really the best for them to retire over there. They’ve been planning renovations to their house. They would sell the house here and then use that money to renovate a house there.

    Do you think you would maybe go back to Mexico at some point?

    I see myself staying mainly because of the violence in Mexico. When we were last there there was the arrest of El Chapo’s son, and that happened the day we were supposed to leave. A bunch of members of the cartel carjacked a bunch of people’s cars, burned them, and blocked streets and everything, so we couldn’t even leave. Before that I was considering going to Mexico every now and then to visit, but now I’m not even sure if I feel safe going there.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  SLI News,  Winchester

    SLI scholar Elly featured as Shenandoah University joins the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities

    SLI is grateful for years of partnership with Shenandoah University, including as described in by SLI scholar Elly (John Handley High School ’16, SU ’20) in an SU article about the university’s joining the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Congratulations SU on joining the HACU and to Elly for her college successes! READ MORE ABOUT ELLY

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Big-picture dreams and good vibes: Meet Helen, SLI scholar

    An interview with SLI scholar Helen (John Handley High School ’25), pictured with fellow SLI scholar Tatiana (left) and SLI program director and Latinos Unidos club advisor Ileana Escalante.

    What are some things you enjoy about school?

    My favorite subject is history, learning why everything is the way it is now, and how history repeats itself. We see what happened back then happening now. I also like chemistry. Even though I can sometimes struggle a little bit, it’s interesting. I’m in three clubs – Interact, Latinos Unidos, and SLI – and I think they’re very fun, mostly when we’re working with organizations and doing community service.

    What are your big-picture dreams for after high school?

    I definitely want to go to college. I don’t know where, but hopefully somewhere a little close to home, where I can find out who I am, and independence. 

    There are a lot of things that interest me, like the medical field. I don’t know if I want to be a pediatrician, or if I want to be a dentist. I also recently went on a field trip to read with little kids in elementary school, and I’ve always had this inside feeling of wanting to be a primary school teacher. It was like, “Maybe this is what I’m meant to do.”

    My mom was the first in the whole family to go to college, in El Salvador. She and her family worked so hard for her to be able to go to college. My grandma had 11 kids, and so it was a huge household to run, and they weren’t very wealthy, so they kind of had to make their way. She talks about how if you wanted to go outside and play, even if you wanted to go out with your friends to do homework, you first had to make tortillas, you had to cook, and clean.

    My mom got very lucky with scholarships and got the opportunity to go college, and she became a teacher.  In moving to the U.S. she sacrificed her diploma and her education and now she’s working like someone who never went to college, and that’s very touching to me. The fact that she gave up her hard work and education so that my brother and I could have the advantages and opportunities that she never had, has played a big role in who I am and who I want to become.

    I strive to be like her in a way. It’s a lot of pressure, because since she’s a teacher, she and my dad are very involved with my school and are strict about my grades. 

    What do you appreciate about SLI?

    Being involved with SLI, Latinos Unidos, and other clubs, and being around different kinds  of people, is very comforting. You’re never going to be scared to speak your mind or reach out because you know that they’ll understand you, and you know that they have gone through the same, or similar things, and so it’s very comforting. And you just feel welcomed and included.

    It’s always good vibes, good energy. We’re always celebrating something. There’s hope out there. That’s the most important thing.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Yeyhlin, SLI scholar

    An interview with SLI scholar Yeyhlin (John Handley High School ’23, Hollins University 27), who plans to become a pediatrician – a role she says feels “second nature.”

    What are your college and career goals?

    I really like to work with children, so I want to be a pediatric doctor. I’ve always liked helping people. As I’m the oldest daughter in my family, it’s kind of second nature. Since I was eight I’d play with doctor toys, put on a little lab coat and everything, and then when I started looking at careers I wanted to focus on something that pays well and is something that I am passionate about. 

    I’ll be the first in my family to go to college, and I’m going to Hollins University, an all-girls school. I was accepted into UVA and Virginia Tech, but I wanted a smaller school so I could really focus on learning the material. Since I’m going to be premed, I want to make sure I get connections with my professors, learn the material for the MCAT, and do it right the first time.

    What are some of your classes and involvements?

    I like to read and write a lot, so I like English class. I like AP Government this year, too. It’s pretty interesting. I’ve been into public speaking for a while. It’s my second year with the speech and debate team, and I got first in regionals. The team is really proud of all we’ve accomplished.

    I did work at a home for older people, and now I am a server at a restaurant. It’s good money, with flexible hours.

    What are some challenges?

    A lot of the times, when I take the challenge to take an AP class, I’m one of the few Hispanic girls in there, if not the only one, so at times you kind of feel alone. I mean, I have a lot of friends in that class, but sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself more. 

    It can be really hard to do well in my classes when I have family responsibilities, too. My father passed away in June three years ago, and I have a sister and a little brother. With my mom and the language barrier I’ve kind of been her mini translator, so I don’t know how they’re going to do without me when I go to college. I have a little guilt going away. We’ve kind of gotten a lot closer since my dad died, so me going away will be really tough on my mom.

    My mom has always wanted me to have an education. Now I have all these scholarships, so we don’t have to worry so much about the money.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    College update: Amy V.A., SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’21
    University of Pittsburgh ’24 (accounting and philosophy)

    Read Amy’s 2021 interview here

    At a young age, ever since I realized my father had to work a tireless twelve-hour day while my mother had a ten-hour day at work just to provide for our family, it became my mission to attend college. 

    Due to my self-motivation and strong independence, I have undergone hundreds of late nights working on school projects and assignments, participated in and led multiple clubs and school events, spent my free time volunteering around the community, and have made continuous efforts to communicate with others my future aspirations. No one forces me to continue or to stay in school; I choose to continue because it is what brings me joy. 

    I am easily able to adjust due to my adaptability and genuine optimism, and these strengths have allowed me to be thrown into a completely new environment and community of high-achieving scholars at the University of Pittsburgh where I happily immerse myself and my future.

    Although the college experience and workload can be mentally fatiguing, I have felt growth and progress emotionally and academically. SLI scholarship funds help significantly with my tuition costs, which are straining my ability to afford continuing my academics.

    I have been extremely happy and content attending the University of Pittsburgh. I have discovered a previously unknown love for the subject of philosophy; established an interest in health care ethics, specifically with focus on women’s physical and mental health; initiated close professional relationships with professors I adore (I’m currently formulating a design for a children’s book with one); become increasingly involved with Pittsburgh experiments; and applied to become a part of Pitt’s student-run activities board, the Pitt Program Council, for the upcoming school year. I was also placed on the dean’s list in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences for academic achievement made this past year.

    With my current interest in philosophy and legal studies, one of my long-term goals consists of majoring in either philosophy of politics or in law, criminal justice, and society. In addition, I plan to minor in the classics. I am also considering going to law school. In preparation for this goal, I am currently enrolled in courses such as The Nature of the Emotions, Criminal Procedure, Law and Politics, The Legal System, and for fun, Beginning Latin 1.

    An immediate goal is furthering my leadership abilities and people organization skills. For this, I have enrolled in a Pitt Program Council committee in which I plan to become a team leader. I also plan to spend time volunteering in the city of Pittsburgh as I did in Winchester. As a people person, my spare time is spent networking with peers and professors.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    College update: Adriana, SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’22
    Laurel Ridge Community College ’24 (health information management)

    I really want to become a dentist. Achieving this might take a very long time, but if I put in the effort I will be able to become a dentist one day. 

    A few years ago my mom suffered from breast cancer. This situation left my family in a lot of debt to the hospital, and my brother stopped going to college. It was a hard time but God has helped and never has left us alone. 

    The first time I entered school I wasn’t sure what was my future, but thanks to many teachers who helped me a lot, I now know what I want. I have a positive attitude to help overcome every hardship, I believe in myself, and I am focused on what is right.

  • All Posts,  Richmond,  Scholar Features

    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.

  • All Posts,  Richmond,  Scholar Features

    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. 

  • All Posts,  Richmond,  Scholar Features

    Meet Osvaldo, SLI scholar

    Huguenot High School ’25

    SLI for me..bundles you up with wisdom. The program is great and provides an enrichment of knowledge and opportunities, some of which would have been unimaginable coming from a first-generation Mexican household. There is a lot to gain from this amazing program, they prepare you to get into college as well as to know how to survive within college, never leaving you alone. Guidance never fails to be present in this program as they always make sure to show you the correct path in all circumstances. I am very thankful for [teacher and SLI program director] Ms. Orellana since she introduced me to this incredible program where I met the charismatic Professor Peter Kaufman [SLI founder and program director]! I am also really thankful for him. Thank you so much to the extraordinary SLI team that made all impossible dreams possible, none of this would’ve been possible without you all.

    After high school I picture myself attending college while taking courses that support my dream of being an actor. I’d also like to take business courses. 

    Well-recognized YouTuber Jimmy Donaldson, better known as Mr. Beast, has always been a huge inspiration for me ever since I was young, and is now someone I look up to. He has a lot of given traits that make him someone bright, such as his humorous personality. Despite him being a multimillionaire he gives back to the most needed communities or just complete strangers he finds at any location no matter what. I would also like to open my own YouTube channel in the near future to be able to spread my fun personality along with giving back to those who need help in many communities. 

    Since day one my family has always been beside me pushing me to strive for the best. I have learned how to be an individual full of discipline, respect, and humbleness thanks to my parents. I have and continue to receive a bundling amount of motivation throughout my academic journey which really reflected the support my family has always carried on me. Though I make mistakes, a lot of them, I am reminded to try to perform the best I can even when committing tiny errors. Fun is a must when my sisters and I do anything together. My family constantly emphasizes how they are my biggest fans when it comes to my dream of being an actor. I will continue to work hard to make them proud.

    My parents immigrated from Mexico to Richmond, Virginia, where I was born. I am Mexican-American as well as the only male child in my household. Anytime I get stressed I head for my soccer ball. Playing soccer outside is also one of my get-away passions.

  • All Posts,  Expressions of Gratitude,  Richmond,  Scholar Features

    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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