• 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,  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.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Jennifer, SLI scholar

    John Handley High School ’21
    William & Mary ’25 (public health with a data science focus)

    Growing up, education was one of my main concerns. As a first-generation low-income student, I was more focused on basic needs like money, housing, and food. I faced countless obstacles, including growing up in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and constantly being in survival mode. Despite these challenges, I always found solace in books and education. I don’t share my story for pity, but rather as a source of empowerment and to help others who have been through similar situations. 

    I am not the oldest in my family, but out of my seven siblings, I am the first to attend college. I understood from the start that I had to be a role model for my younger siblings, as my older siblings faced difficulties due to the circumstances we grew up in. So, it was up to me to navigate college independently, discover which organizations and clubs to get involved in, and figure out the process of applying for financial aid through FAFSA. 

    My first inclination to pursue higher education arose when I enrolled in the gifted program during my elementary school years. The teachers and individuals in the program served as my primary sources of inspiration. Through their guidance, I acquired crucial information, enhanced my public speaking skills, attended mandatory meetings, and engaged in volunteer work with children. 

    Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) significantly facilitated my path towards accessing college education. Not only did the program equip me with a wealth of knowledge about higher education, but it also instilled a sense of belonging within me. 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. 

    When it came to selecting a college, I faced challenges as self-doubt crept in while filling out applications. Additionally, I found myself torn between the idea of venturing far away or remaining in Virginia. In the end, I made the decision to stay in Virginia and exclusively applied to schools within the state. Despite receiving a full-ride offer from my dream school, Washington & Lee, I ultimately chose William & Mary. Interestingly enough, I applied to W&M on a whim at the last minute and ended up being accepted as a W&M scholar, which granted me a full tuition and fees scholarship. 

    I am grateful that I chose to further my studies at W&M because they provided me with an abundance of resources that I never imagined possible. During my first year, I had to withdraw for medical reasons, but the school was incredibly supportive. They offered networking opportunities, organizations like the First Generation and Low Income Group, WMSURE (which is part of the W&M scholars program), academic support, and mental health resources. 

    Unlike high school, where I had to work full time and balance multiple responsibilities, I no longer have to do that because W&M meets 100% of demonstrated need. I am particularly thankful that SLI taught me that it’s okay to ask for help because at W&M, everyone is always willing to offer support. Currently, I am working towards my undergraduate degree in public health with a focus on data science. I have upcoming meetings and internship opportunities lined up. In the future, I hope to pursue research in Latino health disparities or become a public health analyst after completing graduate school. I will forever be grateful to SLI for believing in me when nobody else did.

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

    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)

  • All Posts,  SLI News,  Winchester

    Alvarez, Maquera to lead SLI program in Winchester

    SLI has named teacher Jeffer Alvarez and school counselor Lara Maquera as its program directors at John Handley High School in Winchester.

    SLI program directors facilitate SLI’s mission to support Latino/a/x high school students with college access through rigorous academic challenge, leadership development, scholarships, and supportive mentorships. 

    “Based on my personal experience, studying at college and my masters have given me the chance to go way beyond what I expected when I began my career,” said Alvarez, an English as a Second Language teacher who has taught for more than 18 years to second graders through twelfth graders in public and private schools. “I am super excited about this new role with SLI as I can guide students’ processes, and support them into making the best life-changing decisions.”  

    Incorporated in 2012 and a 501c3 nonprofit since 2013, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.

    “I look forward to getting to know students better while helping them to pursue their academic and career goals,” said Maquera,  who has also been a teacher and school librarian and whose professional goals include sharing the love of literacy and education with youth.

    This summer alone SLI awarded $143,000 in college scholarships and computer awards for students attending college this fall. These new awards and previous SLI financial support for students since 2012 now total more than $535,000. 

    SLI is funded by many individuals, businesses, foundations, and organizations. In June 2022 SLI announced the establishment of its endowment made possible by a lead gift from Gerald F. “J.J.” Smith, Jr., and the Gerald and Paula McNichols Family Foundation has funded many SLI computer awards to help Handley students begin college with the technology they need for success. 

    The previous SLI program directors at Handley were Spanish teachers Ruth Espinoza de Arteaga and Ileana Escalante, who also co-sponsored the student club Latinos Unidos. For students like SLI scholar Ariana, who graduated from Handley in 2023 and will attend Laurel Ridge Community College this fall, they were “a big help and support” in the process of becoming a first-generation college student.

    “‘Go for what you want,’” she recalls them encouraging her. “‘You’ve done a lot already, and you will continue doing great things.’” [Watch Ariana’s SLI interview at vasli.org/ariana]

    “I am grateful for all that Ruth and Ileana did for SLI scholars,” said Veronique Walker, SLI board member and the equity and family empowerment coordinator for Winchester Public Schools. “Their legacies will continue to unfold both in the lives of the SLI scholars they helped go to college and in the ongoing role of SLI to support future college students and community leaders in Winchester. I am excited for this next chapter of SLI at Handley under Lara’s and Jeffer’s leadership.”

    SLI is “a very rewarding activity,” said Espinoza. “I am really pleased that both Lara and Jeffer have stepped out to continue this great program” at Handley.

    “I am confident that they will do a wonderful job at supporting and encouraging our scholars in their journey through high school as they make crucial decisions about their future,” said Escalante. “¡Buena suerte!”

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Ariana, SLI scholar

    Ariana (John Handley High School/Millbrook High School ’23) plans to attend Laurel Ridge Community College and become a teacher.

    How did you decide to become a teacher?

    In one of my teaching classes, Teachers for Tomorrow, we had to go spend 40 hours in a classroom. It definitely made me realize that that’s what I wanted to do.

    How does it feel to be finished with high school?

    I was so excited for graduation, but I was so sad because I was like, “Well, now I have to adult. Like, that’s a thing now. I gotta move on.” Then it clicked in my head and I was like, “Wait, I just graduated. Like, you’re done with high school.” That’s weird.

    What would you like to tell about your family?

    I grew up here. I was born here. My mom grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland. My dad immigrated from Mexico, and then same thing with my stepmom. So definitely like we get a little bit of every piece.

    I have two older siblings. One lives on her own and she has her own little family, and then I have an older brother and he’s a full-time college student, and then I have my stepsister, my little sister, another brother, and then I have a younger brother who’s gonna go into kindergarten.

    What have you learned about yourself as you’ve prepared for college?

    It’s difficult being a first gen [college student], your parents not knowing the college process or anything like that, and seeking ways to find help or get the help that’s needed to go through college, or find those resources.

    I think I definitely learned to go for it. Realize that you’ve done a lot already so you will continue doing great things. Seeing myself now and then seeing my younger self is just like, “You did it. You can keep doing it.”

    I’m a big role model for my younger siblings, so I’m hoping that they can see my footsteps and maybe follow into them, or even do better things.

    I always think life’s a plant: You’re that one seed at one point in life, and you’re like never gonna stop growing. You’re not gonna always be perfect, but perfectly imperfect.

  • Gedalia
    All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Gedalia, SLI scholar: “It quickly struck me that I could one day be the help this elderly man needed”

    Gedalia (John Handley High School ’22) is pursuing a nursing degree at Old Dominion University

    How did you decide to study nursing?

    I decided to study nursing when I took my first trip to Guatemala in 2018. I noticed the lack of healthcare in Guatemala’s communities. I was shocked to see an elderly blind man begging for money, and I thought to myself, “How could this elderly man be on the streets?” It quickly struck me that I could one day be the help this elderly man needed. Although I knew it was impossible to help him specifically, I could help others in similar situations. 

    My parents have always taught me to do everything for God and to do it in a passionate way. Pursuing nursing has given me a sense of purpose. I feel that this is what I am meant to do because I will have the opportunity to help God’s children.

    Where do you see yourself working after graduation?

    I will definitely be working with the company I am right now because they help individuals with disabilities. I believe individuals with disabilities deserve the same care as anyone else. My job has taught me many things, but the most important thing is this: a disability should not define anybody. I love my job because it allows me to passionately help and serve elderly individuals with disabilities.

    As a pre-nursing major, I am studying for the Health Education Systems Incorporated exam in my free time. I am also taking medical technician classes with the company I work for, in order to further my education and ability to serve my residents.

    What have been some highlights of college so far?

    I have enjoyed meeting new people and trying new cultural foods, joining clubs that share my interests, culture, and education, and strengthening my relationship with God. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people from other countries, including some exchange students from Japan, and they gave me a different outlook on my college life. For them, it was difficult, as language was a barrier. It made me appreciate my own experience a bit more.

    Are there particular people who have encouraged you?

    My parents have definitely encouraged me to pursue a higher education and have always pushed me to chase any open opportunities. I am the first in my family to go to college, making it really difficult for me to adjust to college. I’ve had to learn everything on my own, but I’ve gained a lot from it.

  • All Posts,  Scholar Features,  Winchester

    Meet Jimena, SLI scholar and future congresswoman

    WINCHESTER, VA – SLI scholar Jimena graduated from John Handley High School in 2023 with plans to attend Dickinson College.

    How does it feel to be finished with high school and about to go to college?

    Graduating from high school was a surreal experience for me, especially since I was the first in my family to accomplish this achievement. While I’ll miss my parents and sisters, I am excited to start college as summer comes to an end.

    Are there particular people who have helped you reach this achievement and encouraged you to go to college?

    My graduation was possible not only because of my personal efforts and commitment, but also thanks to my parents’ unwavering support. They backed me up in every decision I made for my education, and their encouragement is one of the driving forces behind my desire to attend college. My goal is to receive a superior education compared to what my parents were able to obtain in Mexico. They have given me a better life, and I aspire to make the most of this opportunity so that one day I can repay them with the life they truly deserve.

    What do you plan to study at Dickinson College? Do you have a career in mind?

    I plan to study political science. I’m almost 98% certain I want to become a congresswoman, but I’m still deciding what career path I will take in the future. 

    How did you reach that career idea?

    As a member of the John Handley High School Speech & Debate Team for three years, I participated in mock congressional debates in different leagues. While researching for these competitions, I learned about problems in the United States that adversely affect minority groups, including unequal access to healthcare and human rights violations. This led me to develop a passion for advocating for these individuals who often feel voiceless and ignored. I want to be their voice, and I believe that becoming one of the few Latinas in Congress could help bring about the necessary change to support them.

    What have been some highlights of your high school years?

    Throughout my high school years I had the privilege of being a part of Latinos Unidos, a club that celebrates Hispanic culture. In fact, it was one of the most memorable highlights of my high school experience. I was a member of this club for four years and held leadership positions for three of them. Being part of this club helped me to embrace my identity as a Latina and allowed me to be myself without fear of judgment. I owe this to the support of my cosponsors, Mrs. Escalante and Mrs. Espinoza, who also served as SLI program directors. One event that stands out in my mind was the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month during the fall of 2022, which involved trivia, an assembly filled with music, dance, poems, and singers, and a community party. The traditions and values upheld in a Hispanic family are reflected in this club, and I am proud to have been a part of it. It feels like a second family to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to it in any way I could.