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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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    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.

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    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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    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.”

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    SLI Annual Report 2024

    Download the report (pdf) HERE

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    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.

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    $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 Community of Support, which includes many individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations.

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    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

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    SLI awards $143,000 this summer for college scholarships, tech

    Sentara Health and F&M Bank help fund health and business career studies;
    JustPax Fund and the Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation support computer awards

    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. 

    This summer’s awards include $87,000 for a $6,000 college scholarship and $1,250 computer award for each of the 12 graduating SLI scholars for their first year of college (vasli.org/grads), plus $56,000 in SLI Raíces Brillantes scholarships for 20 SLI alumni. 

    Along with many additional individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations in SLI’s community of support, scholarship funders include Sentara Health and F&M Bank, and computer award funders include the JustPax Fund and the Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation.

    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. 

    SLI financially supports its scholars through college scholarships, computer awards for purchasing technology needed to start college, and tuition assistance for taking dual enrollment college and AP courses while in high school.

    Since 2012 SLI has served 159 scholars, including 46 current and 113 alumni. Before this summer it had already paid more than $392,000 in financial support for SLI scholars, who will now have attended 24 colleges and universities.

    “It is SLI’s honor to support students accessing higher education,” said Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D., SLI board chair and associate dean of the Honors College at James Madison University. “We are proud of our SLI scholars, and grateful for the outpouring of support from Sentara, F&M Bank, the JustPax Fund, the Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation, and so many others in our communities who have generously donated to make these scholarships and technology awards available.”

    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). These recipients include:

    • Adriana Irene Gonzalez Salinas (John Handley High School ’22) is studying health information management at Laurel Ridge Community College (vasli.org/adrianags)
    • Amy Jui-Arteaga (John Handley ’21) will study biology and Spanish at Shenandoah University (vasli.org/amyja)
    • Andrea Santiago Calixto (Harrisonburg High School ’23) will study clinical laboratory science at Eastern Mennonite University
    • Axel Vega-Mancinas (John Handley ’23) will study neuroscience/pre-medicine at Harvard University (vasli.org/axel)
    • Consuelo Elizabeth “Elly” Mazariegos Agustin (John Handley ’16) is studying nursing at Shenandoah University (vasli.org/elly)
    • Everth Daniel Hernandez-Ventura (John Handley ’21) is studying nursing at Shenandoah University (vasli.org/everth)
    • Galilea Gallardo-Mena (Huguenot High School ’21) is studying psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University (vasli.org/galilea)
    • Gedalia Garcia (John Handley ’22) is studying nursing and psychology at Old Dominion University (vasli.org/gedalia)
    • Helen Duarte Guerrero (Harrisonburg ’23) will study biological sciences and biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech
    • Helen Rivera Rivas (Harrisonburg ’21) will study health sciences, occupational therapy, and medical Spanish at James Madison University
    • Hillary Dayami Estrada Alvarado (Harrisonburg ’23) will study biology/pre-medicine at University of 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) is studying speech pathology at Laurel Ridge Community College
    • Lindsey Ruvalcaba (Harrisonburg ’23) will study biotech science at Blue Ridge Community College
    • Marvin Alexander Rivera Martinez (Harrisonburg ’22) is studying computer engineering at University of 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). These recipients include:

    • 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 (Harrisonburg ’23) will study business administration in marketing at James Madison University

    Additional SLI college scholarship award recipients include:

    • Adriana Ayala (John Handley ’18) is studying environmental sciences at George Mason University
    • Ariana Perez (Millbrook High School ’23) will study education at Laurel Ridge Community College (vasli.org/ariana)
    • Ariel Morales Bonilla (Huguenot ’20) is studying political science, history, and Spanish at Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/ariel)
    • Irais Barrera Pinzon (George Wythe High School ’21) is studying political science/pre-law at Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/irais)
    • Israel (Huguenot ’21) is studying criminal justice, homeland security, and political science at Virginia Commonwealth University (vasli.org/israel)
    • Guadalupe Tenorio Ramirez (Hopewell High School ’22) is studying engineering at Eastern Mennonite University (vasli.org/guadalupe)
    • Jimena Marquez-Marquez (John Handley ’23) will study political science at Dickinson College (vasli.org/jimena)
    • Noel Ayala-Gallo (Harrisonburg ’21) is studying foreign affairs, public policy and leadership, and astronomy at University of Virginia (vasli.org/noel)
    • Keiry Lazo (Harrisonburg ’23) will study political science at University of Virginia (vasli.org/keiry)
    • Raquel Perez Torrico (John Handley ’21) is studying computer science and web design at Washington Adventist University (vasli.org/raquelpt)
    • Rosely Alvarado Villegas (John Handley ’22) is studying computer science at George Mason University (vasli.org/roselyav)

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    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.