• All Posts,  Richmond,  SLI News

    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.

  • All Posts,  SLI News

    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.”

  • All Posts,  SLI News

    “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

  • 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 Annual Report 2024

    Download the report (pdf) HERE

  • All Posts,  Richmond,  Scholar Features,  SLI News

    Meet Ariel, SLI scholar

    Ariel (Huguenot High School ’20) studied political science and history at Eastern Mennonite University, where he received Cords of Distinction.

    Interview transcript:

    I was surprised by how difficult sometimes it is to get into college, because it feels that once you’re there, it becomes certainly easier because you have a community and there are resources and people who pretty much are in charge of making you feel welcome and working for you, towards your success. So yeah, I was surprised by the huge contrast between how hard is to get into college, all the barriers that exist, all the bureaucracy, and especially when you’re first generation, it’s even harder because you have no idea how to go. Once you’re [in college] it’s more accessible than getting into it, actually.

    In Richmond I remember my freshman, sophomore, and even junior year, I was pretty skeptical if going to college was going to be a reality for me, but once I saw Angela, Gabriela, and Katherine actually getting into college and doing well in their first year, I was like, “Okay, so it’s possible.”

    I guess some advice for all the people who are students right now in SLI is that sometimes it’s crazy, the amount of work you have to do, especially if you’re working with Peter. You have to do a lot of papers, you have to read a lot, but at the end is worth it, definitely. It not only helps you with your work in high school because you definitely get an advantage, you get ahead of your peers in high school, but you definitely get another advantage once you get to college. Either in your critical skills or your writing skills or written skills, you’ll definitely see the results.

    A year after I arrived [in the United States] I started in SLI, in high school. Reflecting to that, it’s been great, it’s been a lot.

    SLI was a great experience for me. I felt that it prepared me pretty well for my college experience in every aspect. I was able to improve my English skill set. I mean, when I came here I barely knew English, so that was one thing. I was also inspired by all my mentors and developed my curiosity and critical thinking skills, too, so that was pretty good, too.

    When I came here and I took my first writing class in college, I realized, Wow, yeah – I could tell, like seeing my other peers, that I was pretty much ahead of them because of SLI, and because of the work I did before coming here. That was definitely something I was really like happy about it. So yeah, SLI was definitely great for me.

    When I got here [to college] I was shy, definitely, and more timid. I became more confident in my skills and in myself as a person. I learned more about the Latino culture here in the U.S. I got to know and become friends of a bunch of new Hispanic people and at this point they’re like my brothers and sisters and family, pretty much, because of the same situations we face and like sharing the great things about our culture, like our food and music.

    I feel I’ve become more understanding, humane, and empathetic toward my community and toward all the other BIPOC communities, immigrant communities as a whole, so I think that’s something that my experience in college taught me and I learned through here, to be more humane, more empathetic, and definitely proactive towards these communities, towards the issues that we face in this society.

    That was the first thing I did when I got [to college] was be involved with [the Latino Student Alliance]. I eventually became their co-president. That was a fun experience and now, towards my senior year, I became more involved with [Student Government Association], like a bigger picture club.

    I’ve been involved with a bunch of clubs and orgs here on campus. It’s been definitely a learning experience for me, getting to know and interact with all these different people and get to know them better and form new friendships.

    My main major was political science, and then I took a couple history classes and I realized, Oh wow, political science and history work pretty well together, and I ended up adding the history major, too.

    I had a chance to take a couple Spanish courses with a focus on Latin American politics, and about like social movements and dictatorships in Latin America and it was great definitely, a good experience.

    Playing soccer here at EMU was fun, to play four years, to connect with new people. I pretty much learned a lot about leadership and put into practice some skills, too, that was great, too. Overall it was a pretty good season for us. We did a bunch of good stuff this year, so that was good.

    [Approaching graduation] is kind of bittersweet. It’s exciting definitely because it’s a transition time and actually I am excited to see and put into actual practice all the skills that I’ve learned here, all the theory and academic work, and actually interact with people from my community, so that’s pretty exciting, too, but at the same time kind of sad, definitely, since I think EMU was definitely a great fit for me. I’m going to be leaving a couple friendships here.

    Now I’m thinking about what I’m going to do. I’m definitely applying to a couple grad school programs. I’m not sure if I’m going to go right into it after undergrad. I might work for a year or a couple months and get a sense of the work. We’ll see from there.

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