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    SLI alumna Mary Tolentino Baez a Fulbright recipient

    Congrats to SLI alumna Mary Tolentino Baez (Harrisonburg ’19, JMU ’23), who has received a Fulbright award! She will work next year as an English teaching assistant, and then return to JMU to pursue a dual master’s in education in Spanish language and culture.

    The complete Instagram post from @jmufellowships:

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    Beck joins SLI board of directors

    The college-access nonprofit Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has welcomed Stephanie Beck to its board of directors. 

    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. It also provides financial support for college success.

    “As a mother of two, a veteran, a proud Latina, and a first-generation American, Beck brings with her a deep passion for creating inclusive and equitable work environments for all,” said SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., associate dean of the Honors College at James Madison University. “I look forward to seeing how Stephanie will impact the students we serve.”

    The diversity and inclusion program manager for CarMax, Beck has been a connecting point for SLI through her previous positions as senior human resources specialist for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Dominion Energy and diversity and inclusion specialist at Genworth Financial, where she first learned about SLI. 

    In January 2021 Beck and three other Genworth employees met virtually with SLI scholars in Richmond to share about their experiences pursuing college degrees and careers. 

    “We felt so inspired,” she reflected afterward. “I hope we can continue to help the students in a way that motivates them to keep striving for success.”

    Beck earned her master’s degree in human resource management from the University of Richmond and bachelor of arts degree in communication studies with a concentration in organizational communication and minor in journalism from Montclair State University. She received her Diversity and Inclusion for HR credential from Cornell University, and is certified by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) as an inclusive workplace culture specialist. She served in the United States Air Force, specifically the Air National Guard, as a personnel specialist and unit training manager, and is on the Richmond SHRM Board of Directors position as the Director of Collaborative and E-Learning.

    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, including Beck’s alma mater the University of Richmond, where SLI founder Peter Iver Kaufman leads SLI efforts for students such as Huguenot High School alumna Irais.

    “When I was in Mexico, I always wanted to go to college, that was one of my dreams,” Irais recalled in a recent interview (https://vasli.org/irais). “But when I came to the US, that dream changed […and] I didn’t see a future for it until I knew about SLI.” She attended a SLI meeting and met Kaufman, who asked if she wanted to be part of SL – “and that’s when my dream came into life again, because I knew that there was hope.”

  • All Posts,  Events,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Winchester SLI Meet & Greet brings together students, board, community

    The Winchester SLI Meet & Greet on April 19 celebrated college access by bringing together SLI scholars and alumni, family, board members, and community supporters for delicious food and drinks.

    Sponsored by Laurel Ridge Community College, Valley Health, and First Bank and hosted by Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant and Bakery, the evening featured speeches by SLI alumni:

    • Elly (John Handley High School ’16, Shenandoah University ’24) is known as being “quiet but tenacious” and “peacefully determined,” and is featured at vasli.org/elly.
    • Jaime (JHHS ’19, University of Virginia ’23) is a communications and trainings associate for the Virginia Conservation Network.
    • Raquel (JHHS ’21, LRCC ’23, Washington Adventist University ’25) is studying computer science and web design. 

    SLI “helped me so much,” said Elly, who will graduate soon from the accelerated nursing program at Shenandoah University. “I honestly couldn’t have done it without SLI. They really supported my goals, and I am very grateful for that.”

    During the event Winchester’s Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr. was recognized for funding many SLI college scholarships, and for his 2022 lead gift that led to the establishment of a SLI endowment at the Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

    SLI leaders were also introduced, including SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., associate dean of the James Madison University Honors College, and local board members:

    • Diana Patterson, owner of DSP Services
    • Bryan Pearce-Gonzales, Ph.D., department chair and professor of hispanic studies at Shenandoah University
    • Andrea Meador Smith, Ph.D., associate dean of College of Arts and Sciences at Shenandoah University, and
    • Veronique N. Walker, Ed.D., L.P.C., N.C.C., the equity and family empowerment coordinator for Winchester Public Schools.

    With programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, Virginia, the mission of Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) 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. In addition, its scholars can become eligible for 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. SLI scholars have attended 24 colleges and universities.

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

    Spring programming at SLI sites include a variety of opportunities, events

    SLI programming this spring included unique opportunities at each of its sites, with students experiencing a variety of events including college visits, guest speakers, and more. 

    “Accessing college is no small task,” said Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., SLI board chair and associate dean of James Madison University Honors College. “SLI is proud to support its remarkable scholars as they pursue the higher education they so keenly desire and merit.”

    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. SLI is a community-based, not-for-profit organization built on partnerships with high schools, universities, communities, students, and parents in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester. Dedicated to advancing Latinx students’ post-high school educational opportunities, SLI advocates for Latinx opportunities and strives for social justice and equity. Scholars – currently there are 67 – are mentored to be leaders that positively contribute to their communities. 

    Through collaborations with university and high school staff, faculty, and students, SLI provides college access opportunities throughout high school. In addition, its scholars can become eligible for financial support for college success, which since 2012 has included more than $542,000 in college scholarships, technology awards, and dual enrollment and AP course tuition assistance.

    Harrisonburg

    SLI program directors Hannah Bowman Hrasky, a teacher at Harrisonburg High School, and Carlos Alemán, Ph.D., a professor at James Madison University, develop and coordinate academic, leadership, and mentorship activities for the SLI scholars in Harrisonburg. SLI Early College is one program where students meet twice monthly after school for college planning updates, reflective writing exercises, and college-level discussions. This spring, student teams researched Latina girlhood as represented in mass media targeting audiences ages 10-14 years.

    SLI on Saturday is another program, with monthly gatherings held on the JMU campus and built around themes of community and civic engagement, cultural identity and empowerment, and healthy relationships and well-being. The April meeting (pictured below) invited the JMU student organization, SLI Mentors, to present a Women’s History Month-centered program. Activities promoted empowerment and solidarity for Latinx women, a crash course on intersectionality, and writing letters of appreciation to inspiring women in the students’ lives.

    Several ad hoc events in April were also developed to meet student needs and interests. SLI partnered with the NewBridges Immigrant Resource Center to host an exclusive workshop featuring immigration attorney Steven Smith and social work intern Catalina Marquez, who provided information and answered questions about family petitions to scholars and their parents. Many scholars also participated in a “shadow day” organized and hosted by SLI Mentors that included attending classes with college mentors, major-specific guided campus tours, visiting student support spaces, meeting with professors, and experiencing a typical college day. Finally, scholars served their community by volunteering at La Fiesta, an annual food and game fair for children and families of Smithland Elementary School.

    Richmond

    SLI in Richmond is led by SLI founder Peter Iver Kaufman, Ph.D., a professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond, and Huguenot High School teacher Ester Orellana. University students act as mentors of the SLI high school students, routinely offering mentor-mentee bonding activities.

    In March nine high school freshmen were welcomed as Richmond SLI’s newest cohort at an induction gathering of approximately 80 that included all current SLI scholars, family members, and guest speakers Ricardo Jofre and Kathryn Perez, an alumna of SLI in North Carolina. In April, scholars and their families gathered for a graduation celebration (pictured below), which included a speech by SLI alumnus Israel (pictured below with Kaufman). The event will be further featured in an upcoming news release.

    Early College programming featured readings about the history of Palestine and the current crisis in Gaza, with essays to come this summer. Richmond SLI alumni have described the required academic writing for Early College as a “crazy” amount of work but “worth it, definitely” – and helpful for both high school and college success.

    “‘Wow!’” SLI alumnus Ariel (pictured below, left) said he realized in his first writing class in college. “I could tell, seeing my other peers, that I was pretty much ahead of them because of SLI.”

    Winchester

    John Handley High School counselors Lara Maquera and Elizabeth Cranford are the SLI program directors in Winchester, where this spring SLI scholars worked on College 101 Workbooks and shared research about colleges they are considering attending. 

    Guest speakers included Shenandoah University admissions director Calyn Lutz, who shared practical information about the college application process, and Valley Health hiring manager Lisa Spencer, who discussed academic and training paths that can lead to careers in the medical field. 

    SLI has “allowed me to get a feel for what to expect in college,” SLI scholar Mario (pictured below) said in a feature about SLI in the March issue of Cooperative Living Magazine. “Honestly, I would be lost [without it] because SLI has helped me visit different types of colleges and meetings related to programs offered.”

    The program was highlighted during the Winchester SLI Meet & Greet (also pictured) at Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant and Bakery on April 19. Sponsored by Laurel Ridge Community College, Valley Health, and First Bank, the event provided opportunities to meet SLI scholars and alumni, board members, donors, and other community members.

  • All Posts,  SLI News

    Outgoing board leaders recognized as “integral” to SLI’s growth

    SLI has recognized the extensive service and leadership of two board of director executives who exited their roles at the end of 2023.

    Jason Good, Ph.D., joined the board in 2018 and served as board chair from 2019 through 2022. Brent Holsinger, M.Ed., joined the board in 2015, was chiefly tasked with board member development starting in 2016, and served as secretary 2018-23. 

    During their terms of service, SLI celebrated its first decade as a Virginia nonprofit, increased its scholarship opportunities, established an endowment, hired SLI’s inaugural managing director, and continued SLI’s upward trajectory of impact. Since 2012 SLI has served 180 scholars (67 current and 113 alumni) and awarded more than $542,000 in financial support for students, including more than $147,000 in 2023 alone.

    “Jason and Brent were integral in helping lay the foundation that has resulted in SLI’s remarkable growth over the last five years,” said Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., SLI board chair and associate dean of James Madison University Honors College. “Their leadership paved the way for our continued, increasing support for students navigating college access opportunities.”

    With programs in Harrisonburg, Richmond, and Winchester, the mission of Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) is to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. Under SLI’s model of service, 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. 

    “Jason and Brent were champions of SLI’s mission,” said Carlos Alemán, Ph.D, SLI board vice chair and program director and a JMU professor in residence at Harrisonburg City Public Schools. “Each uniquely understood the talents and needs of first-generation college students and Latinx families in our region and brought that expertise to our organization.”

    Good relocated from Virginia in 2021 to be vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. Prior to his move, he served as vice president for innovation and student recruitment at Eastern Mennonite University, director of locum tenens at CT Assist, director of study abroad at JMU, and director of admissions and in additional capacities at EMU. He holds a doctor of philosophy in Hispanic studies from La Universidad de Cádiz in Spain, where he also earned a master of arts degree in Hispanic studies–multicultural and intercultural studies. He received a post-master graduate certificate in college student personnel administration from JMU, and his bachelor of science degrees in sociology and environmental science are from EMU.

    The chair and founder and former president of On the Road Collaborative, Holsinger is the program manager for Virginia Partnership for Out of School Time. He has served on the Harrisonburg City School Board, founded and directed Beyond the Bell–Harrisonburg, was a teaching fellow and campus director for Citizen Schools, and was a corps member of City Year. He holds a master of education degree with a specialization in out-of-school learning and leadership from Lesley University, and a bachelor of science degree in business administration–finance from University of Richmond. He now lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

  • All Posts,  Richmond,  SLI News

    “The politics of human migration” highlights SLI mentor at University of Richmond

    RICHMOND, VA – A University of Richmond article features SLI mentor Anum Merchant, who has mentored Yoselin, the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, ever since they were first-year students in college and high school, respectively.

    “This year, I helped Yoselin with her college essays and applications,” Merchant said. “When you grow up in a culture unfamiliar to your family, you have to work twice as hard. I have seen that in Yoselin. I love watching her grow and figure out what she wants to do. She’ll be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall.” READ MORE

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    Leader of SLI mentors at University of Richmond featured in “Paying it forward” article

    RICHMOND, VA – “Being the first in your family to go to college requires determination. Chris Mitchell demonstrated just that when, as a high school senior, he researched and applied to some 30 colleges and countless scholarships…. Now the first-generation, Afro-Latino college student is paying it forward. He shares his knowledge about preparing for, applying to, and experiencing college with Latinx high school students participating in a nonprofit college-access program.” READ MORE

  • All Posts,  Harrisonburg,  Scholar Features,  SLI News

    Meet Helen, SLI scholar

    Helen (Harrisonburg High School ’23) learned the multiplication tables early thanks to her dad, who didn’t have the money to go to school but loved reading textbooks. Her parents always wanted her to go to college, and in ninth grade Helen took the “first step” to doing just that: She applied for SLI. Now Helen is studying biomedical engineering.

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    Second Sentara Health grant to increase college access, bolster health career pathways for SLI scholars

    Photo: Sentara Health employees Zulma Argueta (left), Onesimo Baltazar Corona, and Silvia Garcia-Romero talk with SLI scholars about health careers during SLI’s College Access Day in December. Sentara has awarded a second grant to SLI for such events and for college scholarships for SLI scholars who are pursuing health-related studies and careers. 

    Sentara Health has awarded a second grant of $60,000 to the college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI). 

    The grant will help provide college access opportunities for students to gain awareness of their college and career options, including those in health care, plus support college scholarships for SLI scholars who are pursuing health-related studies and careers. 

    A previous grant from Sentara supported SLI programming in 2023, plus scholarships for 18 SLI scholars and alumni pursuing health-related studies and careers including health information management, biology, clinical laboratory science, neuroscience, nursing, psychology, biomedical engineering, occupational therapy, medical Spanish, speech pathology, biotech science, and computer engineering.

    A response to medical staff shortages plaguing the U.S. healthcare system, the grants are part of Sentara efforts to create a pipeline for young students to their desired healthcare careers while also positively impacting their community’s economics and health equity outcomes.

    In addition to helping to fund SLI scholarships, Sentara has provided eye-opening opportunities through SLI programming. During the annual James Madison University Professors in Residence and SLI College and Career Access Day in December, Sentara professionals shared their expertise in promoting salud y comunidad, or health and community. Sentara physician assistant Leodegario Alonso provided the keynote address, sharing about persistence on his career journey, and encouraging students to forge their own pathways. 

    “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 Silvia Garcia-Romero, director of Diversity & Inclusion at Sentara, who also participated. “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.” 

    A 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, since 2012 providing more than $542,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment and Advanced Placement tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 24 colleges and universities.

    “This new grant from Sentara will help propel SLI scholars into health-related careers,” said SLI board chair Fawn-Amber Montoya. “It is SLI’s honor to be part of the community that is supporting their professional journeys.”

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    “First-Generation Scholars: First-Rate Learners”

    After the Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative awarded SLI $2,500 in its Operation Round Up program last fall, SVEC community relations specialist Lydia Weaver decided to learn more about SLI – and wrote this article for Cooperative Living Magazine:

    The disparity of ethnicities in college students across American campuses can be discouraging for those in the minority. Couple that with a language barrier or not having an experienced family member to guide you through the application and admission process, and suddenly, dreams of higher education can feel out of reach. READ MORE