• All Posts,  Meet SLI Scholars,  News,  SLI in 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,  Meet SLI Scholars,  News,  SLI in 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!

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

    SLI class of ’23 college acceptances

    To date, SLI scholars graduating from high school this year have been accepted to the following colleges and universities:

    • Bridgewater College
    • Eastern Mennonite University
    • George Mason University
    • Hampton University
    • Harvard University
    • Hollins University
    • James Madison University
    • Longwood College
    • Mary Baldwin University
    • Old Dominion University
    • Radford University
    • Roanoke College
    • Shenandoah University
    • University of Virginia
    • Virginia Commonwealth University
    • Virginia Tech

    DONATE HERE to support SLI college scholarship and computer awards!

  • All Posts,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in 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,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in 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,  News,  SLI in Harrisonburg,  SLI in Winchester

    SLI Congreso ’23

    SLI scholars from Winchester and Harrisonburg gathered with [email protected] mentors to learn about leveraging their strengths to better themselves and their communities.

    Students participated in cross-program discussions, met with SLI Board Chair and JMU Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and External Engagement Fawn-Amber Montoya (pictured, third from left) and visiting professors of Latinx studies (from left, Daniel Morales of VCU, Sarah Deutsch of Duke, and Benny Andres of UNC-Charlotte), ate in the JMU dining hall, and shared about difficult choices as they progress toward college.

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

    F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Award to support financial sector career opportunities

    HARRISONBURG, VA – The college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has partnered with F&M Bank to establish the F&M Bank SLI Scholar College Award for Latinx students pursuing business and entrepreneur-related studies and careers.

    Designed to empower SLI scholars to achieve financial sector careers and recognize their leadership in related service and activities, the $5,000 scholarships will be awarded to SLI scholars studying relevant fields in college. The partnership will also include opportunities for personal finance management programming, internships, and job shadowing.

    “Our company’s values are based on supporting our neighbors to build better communities where we all live, work, and play,” said Holly Thorne, F&M Bank senior vice president. “Scholarship programs are critical in the face of today’s changing higher-ed landscape, which is why F&M Bank supports SLI scholars who are undertaking academic programs that will empower them as they develop into our future community and civic leaders.”

    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 $466,000 in college scholarship awards, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. SLI alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    “Our partnership with F&M Bank will benefit SLI scholars even beyond the named college award,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director. “Personal finance management programming will also help them develop the tools to manage their economic trajectory and open doors to potential career paths and professional development opportunities.”

    F&M Bank is headquartered in the Shenandoah Valley, with a network spanning the I-81/64 corridors from Winchester to Waynesboro and beyond.  The only publicly traded organization based in Rockingham County, the Company’s core values of enthusiasm, flexibility, responsiveness, community, and fun drive its corporate philanthropy, volunteerism, and local decision-making. The bank supports clients with a robust digital banking suite, full-service branches, and essential services like mortgage loans, title services, wealth management, business banking, and agricultural lending. With philanthropic efforts totaling over $300,000 annually, and a team dedicated to volunteering, our responsibility is to provide a bright future right here.

  • All Posts,  Expressions of Gratitude,  SLI in Harrisonburg,  SLI in Winchester

    Help SLI scholars maximize their potential!

    DONATE TODAY: vasli.org/donate

    “Whether it’s community college, a four-year university, or even just AP classes and dual enrollment while in high school, education has the power to change the world. By giving to SLI you can ensure that Latinx students have access to these opportunities and they can maximize their potential.” –Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director

  • All Posts,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in Winchester

    College update: Amy W., SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’21
    University of Pittsburgh ’24 (philosophy of politics; law, criminal justice, and society; classics)

    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 mentality 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,  Meet SLI Scholars,  SLI in 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.