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Rafael found his dream school with Chicago Scholars — help more students get the same chance

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It is a rare and lucky thing to know what you want to do from a young age. For Chicago Scholar Rafael Mena, Civil Engineering has been his passion from a young age – he even chose his high school with it in mind.  

With advice from his teachers and friends in the program, Rafael joined Chicago Scholars and quickly found value in our college matching program. Not many universities offer Civil Engineering degrees, and even fewer were close to home. But the University of Illinois, Chicago ended up being a perfect fit. “The big thing I learned was that you don’t have to go to the best college, you have to go to the best one for you,” said Rafael.  

Coming into a program that centered a future oriented lens was impactful. It helped to not only think about getting to college but getting the most out of college to best prepare for the professional world. Starting early gave Rafael the time and space to figure out what was best for his future.  

But the transition from high school to college wasn’t easy. College was significantly more rigorous that his high school program and a change in perspective was needed. Rafael realized that having a reason he could return to when times got hard was essential: “I had to learn to ask why? Why am
I doing this? Why do I want to be a construction manager?” The reason was ultimately his family, community, and to build opportunities for those coming in after him. 

Chicago Scholars also pushed Rafael to think outside of his courses to internships and opportunities that would support his professional growth. As a sophomore at UIC, he currently mentors three other students. Showing up is a major theme in Rafael’s story. “I’m here because one day I want to give back to everyone. Chicago Scholars has great mentors and advisors that gave me a lot of opportunities and I want to do the same thing for others. I want to give back to those who helped me, by mentoring at Chicago Scholars. This program really helps minorities that might have not been able to make it otherwise.” 

Along his journey, Rafael had people show up for him and present him with opportunities that he took full advantage of. With those experiences, Rafael now shows up for others and wants to continue to do so.