A Welcoming Visit

In the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, there is the iconic scene where the golden ticket kids step into the factory for the first time and have their minds blown. Judging from the four-foot entrance door that led into the gigantic space, all of them thought they were being sold short of the real experience. I had a similar experience earlier this month when I went to the Chicago Scholars office in the Loop for the first time. Perched up on one of the top floors of a corporate building, I expected a space with a few offices and a sitting area or two. What I got was an experience that reminded me just how close CS is to me, both physically and symbolically.

I went to the office for a student open house hosted by Team Lift, CS’ college success team. It was smack dab in the middle of final exam season, and it was a chance for College Scholars to stop in, have a snack, get a tour of the office, and take a break from the stress from finals. When I got off the elevator on the 7th floor, I expected the open house itself to be front and center without much depth to walk around and explore. Oh, how I was proven wrong during the tour.

It took me two or three hallway turns and a walk into the wrong room just to find everyone. When I walked in, the environment and tone was clear right off the bat. The office was welcoming, and when I say that, I don’t mean welcoming me for the first time. I mean “welcoming me back” as if I had been there a thousand times.

One thing that was exciting for me was that I could finally put names to faces. The office team was so friendly and great at sparking conversation that it almost became impossible not to recognize voices and names. “Oh, you are the person that sends out Lift emails!”, “No way! You’re the person that called me about a summer internship opportunity!” It was like a family reunion years and years after the last gathering. And speaking of family reunion, it was the very first chance that I got to meet scholars from my CS class of ‘26 outside of Zoom screens!

The thing that really highlighted the experience was being able to meet Jeffrey Beckham Jr., the CEO of Chicago Scholars. Yes, the CEO stopped by to say hello during the tour. And like the rest of the team, the positive energy radiated through the man in charge. He asked about our schools, majors, whether we needed anything, and reminded us that he’s always someone we can reach out to.

Before the open house, I hadn’t seen nor met the team or the office, but there wasn’t a second I felt uncomfortable or uneasy. Alexis, Alicia, Amy, Alexandra, and Yasmine did a great job reminding me that CS’ doors are always open, anytime.

Mental Health Awareness Month is ending. For college students, the need for support continues

In May, Mental Health Awareness Month brings topics for discussion around self-care, finding the right therapist, or practicing mindfulness have become popular discussions, and in the last few years mental health has become front of mind in higher education. The pandemic elevated pre-existing concerns of college students’ mental health; according to Active Minds, 39% of students in college experience a significant mental health issue, additionally, 67% young adults (18-24 years old) with anxiety or depression don’t seek treatment. Students who are struggling mentally are likely struggling academically and tend to be less engaged in their campus community as well. 

But what are we doing now as higher education support staff? Even prior to the pandemic, college wellness centers were struggling to meet the demand created by students’ mental health needs. Currently only about 40% of students believe their university is doing enough to support their mental health. Some universities have adopted telehealth services to bridge the clinician gap, but this approach frequently falls short in terms of creating wrap around services (holistic support to ensure all needs of the student are addressed) and a warm hand-off (direct referrals made between support staff) when a student needs more than just a therapist.  

The pandemic disrupted students’ ability to create a sense of belonging on their campuses; as a result, they lack support systems as they seek help with their finances, academics, career exploration, and physical and mental health.  At Chicago Scholars, we primarily serve first-generation, low-income students, and we know it’s best to have multiple avenues of support that help our Scholars manage their feelings effectively. During the summer before college, we make sure our Scholars know the resources they have available to them, both on campus and through our organization. Our team often refers Scholars to their school’s wellness center, where they can access not only counseling services, but they can also receive resources related to life skills. Moving out and being on your own is a big life transition. College students are not only navigating academics and building their social connections, but they also need to learn how to follow a budget, stock a healthy fridge, make their own medical appointments, exercise, and most importantly manage their own time. 

It can be hard for a first-year college student to recognize they need help, so in the last several years, we’ve made strides to incorporate wellness and mental health into all our college success programming. At Chicago Scholars, we pair first-years with a mentor who checks in with them at least once a month. These conversations give Scholars a chance to not only talk about classes, but to work through the challenges involved in adjusting to their new environment. We’ve forged partnerships that allow some Scholars to access free mental health services and continuing to add more of these opportunities. Our staff has taken advantage of professional development opportunities to better support our Scholars including QPR (question, persuade, refer) training and becoming certified as Mental Health First Aiders. Additionally, our Lifeline Emergency Fund supports our students’ basic needs like rent or groceries to help reduce stress and keep Scholars enrolled. 

Mental health has evolved into a top priority for higher education and the students we serve.  The pandemic taught us that having mental health support and providing staff with a multitude of tools is the best way to meet the diverse needs of our students. Use this May to learn what other organizations and colleges are doing to address college students’ mental health. If you want to partner with Chicago Scholars to provide support for our college Scholars, contact our College Success team at teamlift@chicagoscholars.org.   

Being Seen for Who I Am: Reflections on the Generations Scholarship

I once found myself in the middle of a catastrophe where I somehow wore a heavy boot without straps, as I experienced life through my parents’ lens. At seventeen years old, I found myself contemplating the tradeoff between getting a college education and the added stress it would have on my parents. I got emotional watching my dad, who was already worried about his declining health, and my mom, who was already working three shifts, working even harder to support my seven-year architecture education. Trying on my parents’ shoes, I wondered how they would manage to pay for their three children’s tuition. It was then that I felt true sympathy for them. Whenever I was ungrateful as a child, my dad would say, “You kids don’t understand struggle, and I hope God prevents you from understanding.” That experience made me truly understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into earning money.

Before my move to the United States, I didn’t really understand the concept of struggle because my family was upper-middle-class. My father was a financial accountant for Nigeria Distilleries LTD, my mother was a freelance trader, and they owned farmlands and several catfish ponds. When we moved to the United States, my parents had to assign delegates to supervise the ponds and farmland, but they, unfortunately, did poor jobs. Although we had enough to get by, I still witnessed my parents’ frequent struggles due to Nigeria’s lack of financial stability. As a result, my parents leaned into ‌advice that they got from fellow immigrants their age: They would receive a better “return on investment” for their children’s educations if they pushed us toward the medical field. I detested ‌medicine as a field of study, so I strived to make sure that my college experience was as smooth for my parents as I hoped it would be for me. To become an architect as I hoped to be, I had to attend a reputable – and most likely expensive – school. Although UIC is relatively affordable, it is still very expensive to attend. This led to my search for scholarships.

At first, I was drawn to very competitive, high-award scholarships, but my applications were declined and there I was back to square one. The more rejection letters I got, the more I felt like I had disappointed my parents. To say that I was very excited when I was selected as the first recipient of the Generations Scholarship is an understatement. It just so happened that I got the news a few days before my birthday, so it felt like a birthday gift. It was the first time that I felt accomplished, not only academically, but internally. Unlike the other scholarships I applied for, whose winners had been decided before the judges even read the first sentence of their personal essays, the Generations Scholarship committee made me feel that my essay finally spoke for me. The Generations Scholarship was the first academic scholarship I won, and it was truly the first one that took my statement and personality into account. In addition to the money I received, the relationship that I have built with the donors is indescribably priceless. It is a relationship that I couldn’t have had with the people who fund most scholarships. Generations scholarship equipped me with the confidence and assurance to enroll in two degrees, Architecture and Real Estate. It reduces the burden on my tuition differentials and serves as an encouragement to succeed as more people are interested in my academic success.

Breaking Barriers: Erick Hernandez on Owning His Future

The following story was written by Natalie Hernandez, a student in Prof. Anne Marie Mitchell’s Spring 2023 PR Writing Seminar at Columbia College Chicago. Eric Hernandez, Chicago Scholars Class of 2027, is Natalie’s brother. 

This time a year ago, Westinghouse College Prep senior Erick Hernandez was just barely dipping his toes into the ever-intimidating college application period.

Today, Erick’s been accepted into multiple four-year universities. He even received a full-ride offer. Erick had a real college search experience he had never imagined one year prior. He visited campuses, interviewed with college officials, and had many interactions with other aspiring college students all through his participation in the Chicago Scholars program.

The Chicago Scholars program, a non-profit Chicago-based program that aims to open doors for the students of Chicago, has done radical work in creating academic opportunities for its scholars, of which the majority consist of Black and Latino students from low-income households. The significance of this is not lost on Erick. “There are opportunities that people of color, especially lower-income, especially immigrants, don’t get,” explains Erick. “Our parents are as oblivious as we are to this process, as to where to even start. That’s why having an advisor, a counselor, at Chicago Scholars who understands the whole college application process and can guide me through it, is a huge privilege.”

While Erick was not unfamiliar with Chicago Scholars prior to applying, there were still aspects of the program that surprised him and helped him to grow in ways he didn’t foresee. “I went into Chicago Scholars believing that they would help with financial aid opportunities,” Erick said. “And that happened. But I also ended up coming out of experiences, such as Onsite, with greater confidence and security in my interviewing skills and interacting with professionals. I grew a lot in my communication skills over the course of this year with CS.”

The Onsite College and Leadership Forum is the climactic event for a Chicago Scholar. Hosted at Navy Pier, Onsite is an event that gathers over 1,000 scholars with some of the top colleges and universities in the country to get the opportunity to connect, interview, and gain on the spot acceptances into some of the universities they applied to. At Onsite this past October, over 1,100 offers of admission and $42 million in merit scholarships were awarded to students. Erick was one of them.

“That day was a very long day, there were many interviews. I have some friends who had fifteen interviews,” Erick states. “While I only had five, I still walked out with a sense of accomplishment and a sense of security, because one of the colleges that accepted me was a partner college with CS that would pay for my entire financial aid. That was huge for me.” Erick smiles as he recalls that special moment.

The Chicago Scholars program hosts a variety of workshops and offers resources for students to feel better prepared moving towards attending college. “There’s all sorts of workshops and mentorship opportunities that can be utilized by scholars, such as interview workshops, financial aid workshops, college fairs, and much more.” said Erick. He says the significance of having a counselor cannot be exaggerated. “They’re your ultimate guide. They talk to you about what you want to do, and how to achieve it. They hold you accountable and keep you up to date. The commitment counselors have is very demonstrative of how they prioritize students,” adds Erick.

Now preparing to wrap up his senior year, Erick looks forward to graduating and attending his school of choice in the fall. In giving advice to those aspiring for higher education who were in his shoes this time a year ago, Erick believes in having the courage to make the jump. “You can do it. Just because there might seem to be barriers, or it might seem too difficult or harder, or something that you don’t want to do- in the long term it’ll be worth it,” he says. “And you’ll thank yourself for making that decision.”

The Power of Networking

“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.”

You’ve probably heard that adage before, and it applies to any career.

That’s not to say that skills aren’t important, but often to get your foot in the door; it’s who you know. It’s okay if you don’t have an expansive network entering your freshman year. But over the next four years, do everything you can to introduce yourself to people in your career field and maintain those relationships.

Don’t go in thinking that these people are going to hire you. Instead, ask to learn from them. Ask them about their path and how they got to where they are now. Show the person you want to learn and have the requisite initiative to take their advice.

If your school has a person in charge of alumni interactions meet with that person. They will help you contact alum whose careers align with your interests.

During my undergrad years, I connected with alums who worked as the deputy managing editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. That experience gave me a face-to-face interaction with someone who could potentially hire me and a chance to ask him what he looks for in a potential hire. The managing editor hasn’t hired me, but I changed my approach in interviews based on his advice.

Outside of school, I reached out to people on my behalf. I majored in journalism, so I wrote a list of my favorite writers and reached out through email and Twitter.

Because they’re not management and more colleagues, they became friends/mentors. They routinely sent me job openings I wouldn’t have been privy to unless they gave me the heads up.

One of my mentors even wrote me a letter of recommendation for a job. My other mentor, Nicole, introduced me to many professionals in my field. Without her, I wouldn’t have ever been exposed to professional environments. Nicole has been very instrumental in my career: She’s been a sounding board for ideas I had, she’s advocated on my behalf and is someone that I know will speak positively on my behalf.

I still had to be qualified for these opportunities but talking with my eventual boss before I applied and having someone speak up for me helped. It is rare to make it alone in any profession. It’s always important to have people in your corner who can vouch for you.

Connecting with people in your field is also beneficial from a mental health standpoint. Those people understand the trials and tribulations you’re going through; they can answer questions you might have, and, most importantly, they will be able to empathize with you.

A good first step is to make sure you’re active on LinkedIn. Even if you’re happy in your job, looking at LinkedIn to see what openings are out there never hurts. The more connections you make on LinkedIn, the more opportunities you’ll see through its algorithm. Also, make sure you take advantage of any opportunity to get a professional headshot from your school or organization you’re a part of, and always update your resume. Networking is a valuable skill that is never ending.

A Simple Willingness to Learn is the Door, not the Key

I appreciate Dr. Jonathan Malesic, Professor of Writing at the University of Texas at Dallas, tapping into the value of personal responsibility in his op-ed for the New York Times, and his assertion that “a simple willingness to learn” is the key for college success. Hopefully, the title of the article will draw readers in for this important discussion of success during uncertain times. However, Dr. Malesic places this burden solely on the shoulders of the student and     does not focus enough attention on all the keys necessary for college access, success, and career leadership development beyond that student’s own will.

For over 25 years, the organization I work for, Chicago Scholars, has led our students to success largely due to the extensive research, professional experiences, and best practices that inform  our work. Our Scholars achieve college access, success, career development and leadership – as we like to say, they go wherever their dreams may lead. But my work with Chicago Scholars has confirmed for me that a singular focus      on “a simple willingness to learn” – at the expense of addressing other important factors – is exactly why a student like me, and many other academically ambitious students, almost left college after failing the first semester. That experience left me questioning my desire to be a college student at all. If I was failing, I felt that I couldn’t be committed to learning. Could I? Thankfully, my own college experience began and ended with a willingness to learn. I wanted to learn how to change my circumstances. I wanted to learn how to combat the barriers that I had already faced trying to earn admission into college. I wanted to learn how to navigate a system where my race, gender, and economic status were a factor in my ability to succeed. Unfortunately for me, my willingness to learn also included heavy student loan debt, post-traumatic stress disorder, and continued barriers to entering the professorate. Luckily for me, I found the support I needed in equal opportunity programs when my willingness to learn just wasn’t enough.    .

A few weeks ago, we sent a wellness check email to some of our Scholars. Tragically, they had experienced a school shooting, and a classmate was killed. I highlight this not to draw out the stereotypical assumptions that surround safety in Chicago but to acknowledge the gun-violence pandemic faced by children in every neighborhood across the U.S.  Given this reality, I am challenged to agree that “simply having the willingness to learn” is a significant predictor of success. Our Scholars are willing to learn, but that is simply not enough when they also must worry about their safety while they try to do so.

Dr. Malesic’s brief mention of low enrollment, remote learning, careerism, and knowing the obstacles that hinder learning leaves much to be desired for those who understand and need real tools for success. What, really, does it mean to embrace learning for learning’s sake when your institution does not acknowledge your lived reality?

I share Dr. Malesic’s frustration with the economic and cultural issues our Scholars must confront on their college success journey. But my greater concern is how professors like Dr. Malesic determine whether a student is responding “appropriately” to those challenges. How do they measure the willingness to learn? This could be quite subjective. And how do they react when that willingness to learn just isn’t enough?

Nameka R. Bates, Ph.D.

Managing Director of College Access

Chicago Scholars

A Mentor’s View: Interview with Year 2 Mentor Shanthi Cambala

Read more about Lee’s experience with his CS mentors here.

I believe the students and mentors are the two factors that make CS the special organization it is, although the de facto focus is on the students and our achievements as Scholars both inside and outside of school. That’s why I felt that the mentors should be highlighted first at the end of this academic year.

In my first Launch workshop late 2021, I met my mentor Shanthi Cambala. After a few icebreaker games, I felt far more relaxed and optimistic about how the next few sessions would go. Fast-forward to Spring 2023, and Shanthi is one of my biggest supporters in my academic and creative pursuits.

“After scanning through multiple volunteer sites, I came across the opportunity to volunteer with CS Writing Labs, and given my love of writing, and I was immediately interested!” Shanthi said.  “One student reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to meet with him personally to assist with his creative writing portfolio. That particular student got into his top choice schools. It was after that moment that I knew that I would enjoy being a mentor, and the rest is history!”

“The first year took a LOT of planning, because there were so many moving pieces, especially with the unpredictability of the pandemic at the time. The primary questions that we as mentors asked was, “How do we build relationships virtually and keep everyone engaged?” The year (Year 2) was vastly different.” Shanthi said that Year 2’s less virtual structure gave her the challenge of aligning her own time with that of her five Year 2 Scholars. Once that was clear, her main priority was centered around Scholar wellness. “I really wanted to focus on listening and meeting Scholars where they were at.” To Shanthi, the mentor-Scholar relationship is “rooted in being open with one another…We want to get to know you, and most importantly, we want to be able to help you in your journey!… Mentors are here to guide you through the taught times, and we appreciate the trust that you put in us through such a foundational stop in your careers.”

For me, Shanthi is the perfect example of what makes CS special. When she invests her time towards her Scholars, it is not for the sake of just getting the job done. She wants to get eye level with us. After her monthly check-ins, she will always tell us anytime to reach out to her, no matter the reason. She has a true impact on my life, so I asked her how has Chicago Scholars impacted her life?

“Chicago Scholars has, first and foremost, helped me to feel connected and engaged with the Chicago community.” Shanthi says, “It has been exciting for me to get to know my Scholars and fellow Mentors, and I love hearing everyone’s stories!”

The deadline to apply to be a mentor for the Class of 2028 has been extended to May 17, 2023! Learn more here.

Mentorship, the CS Way

What is the heart and soul of a good mentor? A good CS mentor at that. It is more than asking a student how they are feeling and taking down notes on them. It takes the ability to look past the object lines under the job description and focus on the student.

When I was selected to be a CS Scholar, I had a vague idea of what CS mentoring was. I was apprehensive at first. I was happy to be part of CS, but I didn’t want the program to be a repetitive back and forth of “How are things?” and “Good, what do you need from me?” It certainly didn’t help that our sessions were Zoom and I could only see and hear my mentors, John Smart and Shanthi Cambala, in 2×4 boxes on the corner of my screen. I quickly learned how needlessly worried I was. Shanthi and John created games that sparked conversation between me and others in the cohort, relating to one another’s high school life. They didn’t force themselves into the discussion, but instead chimed in with their own experiences and advice.

Shanthi and John never made me feel any kind of pressure during my college decision process. They never jabbed me for updates on decisions from the admissions offices nor to know which school I was selecting. Instead, they reminded me that I was still human and even though I was in the middle of the most crucial points in my life, they were giving me their full support. I never felt like their care for mentoring me was going to abruptly stop when I graduated and got to college.

I selected Shanthi as my Year 2 Mentor because of how well I related to her. I never experienced mentorship from someone who is relatively close to the same junction I was in at the time. Shanthi is still going on her educational journey as I am, which I personally feel allows us to be more transparent and gives her a better understanding of what I may need help with or where I might be struggling.

I still keep in touch with John on a routine basis. He had recognized that my interest in film and television did not have as many conventional avenues that other scholar interests had. He connected me with an experienced director in the film industry so I could gather some expertise and tips on how to gain experience and notability.

When the formalities of “mentor/mentee” are gone, I believe I’ll have two wonderful friendships with Shanthi and John. The routine we have when it comes to staying in touch and considering each other’s well-being and potential, I confidently think that the foundation has already been laid.

What do you think is the heart and soul of mentorship? Why not develop a connection with a Scholar as a mentor yourself?

The application to become a CS mentor is now due on May 17! Learn more here. 

Announcing: Graduate Level Partnership With University of Chicago Booth Business School


For nearly thirty years, Chicago Scholars has been uplifting Chicago’s brightest students on their path towards leadership experience, degrees from their college of choice, and into fulfilling, high level careers. The program currently runs across seven years with each student, beginning in their junior year of high school and continuing with support through college and into job placement, training, and readiness.  

With several of those career paths requiring the extra commitment of graduate school, we saw an opportunity to further advocate for our scholars. This spring, we’re piloting a partnership with the University of Chicago Booth Business School to establish a direct pipeline for our scholars to attend graduate level programs. As part of this partnership, current Chicago Scholars will benefit from regular events and special sessions with the University of Chicago community, MBA application fee waivers, and even dedicated scholarship awards. There will also be a great opportunity for current Scholars to secure future admission to Booth through the deferred MBA program, which candidates can apply to while they are still in undergrad. 

“One of the reasons we decided to establish this partnership is to continue our strategic goal of preparing our Scholars for the world and the world for our Scholars,” said Andre Hebert, Director of College Partnerships at Chicago Scholars. “We find that some of our Scholars are interested in pursuing a graduate degree and this creates a pipeline for better access and resources. Deciding to partner with Chicago Booth made sense because of our history of partnership with the University of Chicago.” 

Guillermo Camarillo, a Chicago Scholar from the class of 2020, is one of the first students benefiting from this partnership. After graduating from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Science in Management Science and Engineering, he’s now a part-time student at Chicago Booth and a full-time Software Developer at McMaster-Carr. 

“Chicago Scholars helped shape my path to a Booth MBA by allowing me to have the support system I needed to be able to get an undergraduate degree at a world-class institution. This opportunity allowed me to not only grow in ways I wouldn’t have imagined but it pushed me to consider a graduate degree, specifically an MBA, as a viable option post-undergrad. To put it succinctly, Chicago Scholars helped me see the potential I had.”  

“The University of Chicago has been a long-term institutional affiliate with Chicago Scholars and we’re pleased to build on that legacy with additional offerings from a graduate level perspective,” said Donna Swinford, Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions at Chicago Booth. “This initiative is important to our school and it’s a significant step in progressing towards more access to graduate education—both across the board and in our hometown.” 

Navigating scholarships and financial aid: Advice from a Platinum Partner

Guy Hatch is a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College and a member of Chicago Scholars’ College Partnerships Advisory Council. Below, you’ll find Guy’s tips for navigating the financial aid process and looking for scholarships once you’ve decided where you’re attending college.


Paying for college and understanding financial aid can be overwhelming. To help create a list of schools that are need-sensitive, you might consider Googling or talking with your guidance counselor or college counselor about institutions who are prepared to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated need. There are dozens throughout the country. In addition, you might also consider looking at scholarships that are need-based, merit-based, and talent-based. Each institution might offer these types of scholarships, but there may also be external scholarships from your parents’ employers, church community, community based organizations, national organizations, and more.


You do not need to be a straight “A” student with the highest test scores. While some scholarships are based on grades and test scores, many are not, so there is no “perfect student.” There are unique scholarship opportunities that were created for unique students like yourself.


Pay attention to institutional and external scholarships, as well as federal and state aid. For example, some states offer additional aid to students separate from the aid offered by the federal government. Some companies might also offer aid through your parents’ jobs or even your own job. Don’t miss out on those opportunities.


I highly recommend building a relationship with your financial aid office/officer. Just like you have an admissions officer, you’ve been assigned a financial aid officer. You should introduce yourself and inform the financial aid office of your interest in the institution and what your financial needs are. Ask what other options besides student loans are available to you. It doesn’t hurt to ask!


You should inquire with each institution that you’re considering. Different institutions have different financial aid processes. These different methods can range from need-based, merit, work study, and federal/institutional loans.


The most important thing for students and families to remember as they work on scholarships and financial aid applications is that you will be asked to provide a lot of personal financial information, but the financial aid office is there to answer questions and provide guidance throughout this process. College is intended to be an experience of a lifetime, but it is also an investment of a lifetime.

Jennifer Shimp and Dan Bradley named 2023 Mentors of the Year

Every year, we honor a Year One and Year Two Mentor as Mentors of the Year. While we celebrate the hard work and dedication of every Chicago Scholars Mentor, our Mentors of the Year not only embody our CS Way Values, but go above and beyond for their Scholars every day. This year, we’re thrilled to honor Year One Mentor Jennifer Shimp and Year Two Mentor Dan Bradley. 

Inspired to mentor the next class of Chicago Scholars? Click here to learn more about our application process. 

Jennifer Shimp is a veteran Chicago Scholars mentor and is currently mentoring a cohort of Year Two Scholars. Read her Q&A below to learn more about her experience as a mentor.  


What does it mean to you to be named Mentor of the Year? 

Receiving the Mentor of the Year is an unbelievable honor. Chicago Scholars is such an amazing and unique organization and I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know many of the talented Scholars, co-mentors and CS team. It is a privilege to share my time, work and life experience to help in some small way that the dreams and goals of the Scholars become reality.  


What is your favorite thing about mentoring Scholars? 

The best part of being a Chicago Scholar mentor is getting to meet the Scholars at New Scholar Orientation (NSO) and see them develop confidence in themselves, learn and capitalize on their unique “superpowers” and provide support as they complete their college and scholarship applications and prepare for their interviews at Onsite. It is so exciting when the acceptances, financial aid and scholarships start coming in which will determine where they take the next step in their college and career journeys. I enjoy staying in touch and continuing to see their growth through college and beyond.  


Why should someone become a Chicago Scholars mentor? 

Others should get involved with Chicago Scholars for many reasons, but the most important reason is to support young adults navigate the college access/acceptance process. Supporting their journey changes lives as well as those of future generations. They are the leaders who will be impacting our future!  

I still can’t believe that the Scholars in my very first cohort are just about to graduate from college. I love that the Scholars reach out periodically to ask for advice or just share updates.  


Would you like to share something you’ve learned from your Scholars? 

Two of the attributes of the Scholars that have impressed me the most are their perseverance and resilience. Many of them are relatively new to this country, many do not have big support networks, if at all. They have come through the isolation and challenges of the coronavirus and have other struggles but they work incredibly hard and take advantage and support of the Chicago Scholars program to make their future goals come true. It is so exciting to learn about the ways that they plan to make the world a better place.  



Dan Bradley is a veteran mentor who is currently working with a cohort of Year Two Scholars. 


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

I feel very humbled to be recognized with this award as I know how many extraordinary CS mentors — both that I’ve volunteered alongside or interacted with from a distance — are incredibly deserving of the recognition. I hope that I am able to adequately speak on behalf of the inspiring and diverse community of CS Mentors who make it a priority in their lives to encourage, support, and celebrate the efforts and talents of our scholars. It has always been my goal as a CS mentor to offer a positive influence, however small or large, in my scholars’ lives during a critical period of young adulthood. I believe that this award represents that the collective impact of the many contributions CS Mentors offer our scholars is far larger and more meaningful than we may appreciate in the fleeting shared moments together. To me the award also represents the irreplaceable support CS Mentors receive from the tireless efforts of the CS Staff. I would not be the CS mentor I am today without the year-round dedication and investment CS Staff make in both scholars and mentors to prepare us to be successful in our work together. 


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

It is a bit surreal to realize the first cohort of scholars I worked with will now be heading into their senior undergraduate year. The years have flashed by. I am so impressed by how our scholars have navigated challenges and flourished as undergraduates. My favorite moments include witnessing the transformation scholars undergo — often between their second semester and the end of the year — when they begin embracing their identity as a college student with newfound confidence. I know it has occurred when scholars begin sharing their outlets to inspire new individuals to pursue educational goals. This drive to inspire and support others is what I believe is at the root of the transformational power of Chicago Scholars. 


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

The people of Chicago Scholars — scholars, staff, volunteers, and supporters of all types — deeply believe in the transformational mission of the organization. Anyone seeking to experience or contribute firsthand to the incredible impact higher education has on individuals and broader society will find a welcome home in Chicago Scholars. As a mentor you are trusted with playing a critical support role as scholars transition between high school to their first year as an undergraduate. The expectations for mentors are set high because Chicago Scholars attracts people who can meet them and provides the training to set individuals up to be successful. Becoming involved with Chicago Scholars’ work means you will find yourself as a member of this talented, driven community committed to transformation.   


What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor? 

I’ve learned that it is never too early or too late to open yourself up and offer guidance, support, or a caring heart to another person. You don’t need to possess all of the “right” answers — or even all of the “right” questions — to make a positive impression and offer encouragement to another. You start simply by showing up, honestly sharing your experiences, and being willing to learn and grow. Setbacks or missteps are an inevitable part of everyone’s growth and development. These alone should not and will not dissuade anyone with the genuine desire to help people progress toward their set goals.  


Molly Tompkins, Tim Courtney, Armando Beccerill Sierra, and Michelle Repp honored with 2023 CS Ways Mentorship Awards

Every year, the CS Ways Awards honor Chicago Scholars mentors who embody one of our core values: We Dream Big, We Show Up, We Care for Each Other, We Embrace our Differences, We Model the Way, and We Keep our Word. This year, we’re excited to honor Molly Tompkins for her embodiment of We Model the Way, Tim Courtney for his embrace of We Show Up, Armando Becerril Sierra for showing how We Care for Each Other and Michelle Repp for living out We Keep Our Word. Please enjoy the following Q&A with these outstanding mentors. If you’re inspired to learn more about mentoring the next class of Scholars, click here.

We Model The Way: Molly Tompkins

What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

It means the world to me to be honored by an organization that has played such an integral role in my life since I joined as a CS Mentor. I respect the Chicago Scholars organization so much and am amazed by the impact it has on our community. Working with my incredible scholars has been life changing for me – they are the ones who deserve the true honor!

What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

The best part of being a CS Mentor is the lifelong relationships I’ve formed. I’ve had the honor of becoming close with my mentors and several of my scholars, attending graduations, birthday celebrations, and even moving one of my scholars into college in New York City. Seeing their grit, humility, tenacity and brilliance gives me so much hope and pride in our next generation of leaders. These scholars are truly going to change the world for the better.

Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

Getting involved in Chicago Scholars provides you with a perspective that can change your day-to-day outlook. Their diverse backgrounds and stories are the fabric of our city. As a Mentor to scholars in the important life moments of applying to college, graduating high school, starting college, and their freshman year, you see incredible growth. You get to work one-on-one with students towards a more equitable city and world, and you gain more than you give. You get to see firsthand how simply resources and support can be life changing.

What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor? 

My scholars are incredibly resilient and positive. They’ve taught me countless lessons, but the biggest would be never give up on your dreams (but stay practical – if your dream changes, that’s okay!).


We Care for Each Other: Armando Becerril Sierra

What does it mean to you to receive this award?

Being a recipient of this award means that I, along with my fellow mentors, are having a positive impact on young people’s lives through this platform that Chicago Scholars has provided us. That in and of itself is rewarding enough.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

Having the opportunity to meet and learn about these talented young people has been the most rewarding part of being a CS Mentor. Listening to everyone’s aspirations assures me that the future of the city will be in good hands.


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work?

If you’re looking to have a direct, positive impact on the future of the city of Chicago, you should consider getting involved. Plus, I’d be willing to say that most of us, at some point in our life, have had a mentor that has positively impacted the trajectory of our life. So, why not pay it forward by becoming a CS Mentor?


What is something you learned from our Scholars or from being a CS Mentor?

Something that was further bolstered for me from this experience is that inclusion should be at the core of everything that we do in our lives. This was reflected by the scholars in my cohort at always made their fellow scholars feel welcome and embraced their differences.


Tim Courtney, We Show Up


What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

Just getting to work with the scholars, to help instill confidence, and help activate their ambitions and dreams is reward in itself; but to be recognized among both my peers and this wonderful, dedicated staff at Chicago Scholars is icing on the cake!

When your seniors are comfortable calling you at 11:30 PM to help double check that midnight-due essay or scholarship application, you know that you have earned their trust, and they know that you are there for them.  When they share things about themselves they haven’t told her parents, you realize you’ve earned their trust.  This award is just a wonderful reminder how important it is to show up (and keep showing up) for these young scholars.  It is a humbling experience to be recognized for the work that we all do in our own ways, and I am grateful.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

So many great parts, but I would say, just getting to know each of the scholars as individuals is a highlight.

My favorite moments are not just when they get accepted and start getting scholarship offers; it is sharing that hesitation and reluctance to hit that SUBMIT button on their very first college application, and then the excitement that occurs after they realize that they just applied to college!


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work?

This is such a pivotal moment in scholars’ lives; to assist in taking the leap to higher education impacts not only the scholars’ future, but it sets generations of families on a more secure path.  It is hard to think of a more important and rewarding work than that.


What have you learned from our scholars or from being a mentor? 

Just be present and available—reach out, again and again.  Scholars are very intuitive. They can discern between sincere interest and just putting in the time. I have also learned it is more important that you get to know THEM than having them get to know you.


Michelle Repp, We Keep Our Word


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

 CS Staff said it all when I received this award: We see you. It was validating that whether I feel that I’ve contributed enough or not, my participation alone is valuable and appreciated.


What has been the best part of being a CS Mentor?

The Scholars!  Every single Scholar is bright, impressive, and mature, and they offer hope for the future of a complicated society.


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work? 

As a mentor I am actually put to work, and for a truly good cause.  That’s what you hope for when you are looking for a volunteer opportunity.

As a volunteer mentor, you will find that expectations are clear.

You are held to Chicago Scholars’ core principles.   This is not the type of organization where you can show up if and when you feel like it.  To me, this culture communicates Chicago Scholars’ commitment to and belief in its mission, which lends it credibility.


What have you learned from our scholars or from being a mentor?  

The Scholars model the way for me.  For example, my Scholars taught me about respectful communication in a world that has vastly changed since I graduated from college.



REACH wins at 2023 SXSW Pitch Competition

REACH Pathways, Chicago Scholars’ startup focused on our innovative new app, REACH, won the Future of Work category at the 2023 SXSW Pitch competition.

REACH is intended to bring Chicago Scholars’ curriculum to more students in Chicago and beyond. Through a ‘metaversity’ setting and a video-game-like approach, REACH rewards students for completing real-world tasks that will help them get into college and start a career. Partner colleges and businesses will have the ability to interact with a diverse pool of talent, and students will get the opportunity to explore the options available to them early in their educational journeys.

Learn more about REACH here.

A Scholar’s Transition to College

Now that society has started to return to normal, there’s been a lot of interest in how students experienced the earth-shattering changes of the pandemic, from Zoom lectures to online quizzes to hoping that you and your classmates can find a way to hang out together after your last Zoom ends. And you definitely understood your history teacher’s glitchy lecture on Reconstruction, right? But it was also a huge leap to go from remote classes back to normal, in-person classes as the pandemic eased up. For me, I had to do it in my last year of high school as a year one Chicago Scholar.

At the start of my senior year, the world was still testing the waters when it came to opening back up. All school buildings were open to students and faculty, but at any sign of COVID, they would shut down and go fully remote again. Extracurriculars were back, but they could be canceled in a heartbeat. Until second semester, we had to wear masks in the classroom. As a senior, I could never be sure that I’d have all the traditional milestones other classes enjoyed.

The hardest part was the stress of college applications. I had organized myself when preparing for college applications, but I was nowhere near ready as I thought. I had planned to meet with college admissions reps at Onsite, but had to face the reality of those meetings being virtual. This meant that I had to work especially hard on all materials I submitted. It was a demoralizing challenge to say the least. I would look at admissions reps that were willing to meet with me over Zoom, doing my best to smile and be professional while on the inside, I was freaking out because there was no one at home to help me stay calm.

Thankfully, as a year one Scholar, I had resources to help me get through these difficulties. My cohort mentors kept me motivated with my applications and didn’t interrogate me about whether any decisions were made. On top of that, Chicago Scholars offered workshops in our monthly meetings to practice Zoom etiquette and how to best get organized and feel confident when we eventually pressed that submit button.

Now that I’m in year two attending Columbia College, where normalcy has officially returned and is encouraged to students, I look back and reflect on the support I had to guide me through the challenging year. It is a bittersweet reflection, though, because I can’t help but think about the 8th grade students that transitioned into high school at the same time I was exiting it. I had that moment before the pandemic struck, and it was difficult for me. I can only hope that they had a support system similar to the one I was lucky enough to have, to remind them they aren’t alone in the stressful transition. Many students can attest to that.

Don’t let your dream school distract you from the right school

It’s hard to believe that I was still deciding where to attend college four years ago. The entire process gave me anxiety: even though several schools admitted me at Onsite. I was happy to receive the admission letters in October, but the financial aid packages were minimal.

I come from a one-parent household, so securing a robust financial aid package was paramount for me to attend college. Knowing that, I decided to apply for outside scholarships to help bridge the gap, but the scholarships weren’t renewable other than the one given to me by the Chicago Cubs. I didn’t have a favorite school throughout the process, because my dream schools were out of reach.

Knox College was a school that I applied to without knowing much about the institution. It didn’t have a journalism major, only a minor. For me, that was already a red flag, so I didn’t research the school further. They didn’t give me an admissions decision at Onsite and eventually rejected my application. I met with my Chicago Scholars counselor, Monique Moore, and she said I should apply again after I received my second-quarter grades. She told me about Knox’s academic reputation. She didn’t allow me to take the first response as the only response.

Around mid-January, I received an acceptance from the small liberal arts college in central Illinois. There wasn’t any jubilation or tears of joy, just indifference. I didn’t believe I was going to attend the school. I was so adamant about not going to Knox that I didn’t even visit. (Note to Scholars: that was a big mistake, don’t do what I did).

Fast forward to the last week of April when I decided to attend Columbia College Chicago. I visited the downtown campus, talked with alumni and professors, and fell in love with the program. I worried about not receiving the full college experience as a commuter, but commuting allowed me to save money.

On the Thursday before decision day, Knox’s financial aid award letter was delivered to my home. It was the best package I was offered, and it turned out that my best friend was also planning to attend.

If you’re a stellar student, I know you have your dream school in mind, but don’t close your mind to other schools. Do your research and weigh your options. What might look like your “dream school” might not be the great fit that you initially thought. Ms. Moore’s help was unquantifiable; I couldn’t have gone through the college process without her guidance in the college process. She helped me write letters and find realistic options. She always told me the truth, even if I didn’t want to hear it. Looking back, I wish I had taken advantage of those counseling sessions more. Ask questions, even if the outcome seems final. If your session is almost over, ask if you can schedule another time. Today, I’m a first-generation college graduate in large part due to the foundation set from my time as a Chicago Scholar and the resources available to me.

Making Up Time

It still feels like March of 2020 just wasn’t a real time. One day I’m on spring break, listening to Lil Uzi Vert’s new album “Eternal Atake;” the next, I’m finding out spring break is going to be extended for another week. The next thing I know, I can’t see any of my college friends for the next five months and my freshman year is essentially over.

It was already difficult adjusting to college, especially as a first-generation student who wasn’t 100% sure what I want to do with my degree in journalism. And just when I started getting settled into the college lifestyle, it felt like I had to start all over once my sophomore year arrived. Things weren’t getting any easier as I was struggling to find an internship because of the pandemic restrictions. It just didn’t feel like things were going my way when it came to getting by in college. But when I realized the handful of resources I truly had, it changed my outlook on things.

I always knew that I would still be a Chicago Scholar throughout my four years of college, but I never knew how helpful the program would be for me after high school graduation. Along with the mentors and cohorts provided from the first day, Chicago Scholars allowed me to learn about various opportunities and connections through the program that would allow me to succeed. Whether it would be the ELD funding grant, or their seminar events, there are many ways to help you succeed with Chicago Scholars, as that’s their overall goal.

Once I was more tapped in with Chicago Scholars, I was inspired to become even more involved at Marquette. I joined the student media organization, which eventually led me to a leadership role as the music director for Marquette Radio. I also joined a mentorship program at Marquette and was matched with an alumnus who was in a similar field. I even joined boxing, which I never thought I would enjoy, but it connected me with more students and gave me a way to relieve stress.

The pandemic took so much from my college experience, but I was able to salvage what was left of my time at Marquette. With less than two months left in my undergraduate journey, I can say that I made the right decision to stay at Marquette. The moral of my story is when you use your resources around you, it can make your life a whole lot easier. And while there were things I wish I could have changed, I am grateful for all that I learned and who I am able to bring myself around. With the help of programs like Chicago Scholars, I’ve been able to make the most of my college experience and make things easier for myself. I even met one of my closest friends at Marquette because we found out we were both Chicago Scholars. The program helped open so many doors for me within college, and I’m forever grateful for submitting that application during my junior year of high school.



Eva Maria’s Story: “There is always something we can do for others”

Eva Maria Lewis is a Chicago Scholar and the founder and Executive Director of the Free Root Operation (FRO), a nonprofit intercepting poverty induced gun violence by investing in the healing and empowerment of Black and Brown communities in Chicago and beyond. In 2021, Eva Maria was honored with the Reebok Human Rights Award, and she is set to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in May of 2022. Eva Maria has been featured in the Chicago Tribune for her work as an activist and community organizer multiple times, most recently for the South Shore data project. Eva Maria gave the following speech at Chicago Scholars’ 25th Anniversary Celebration in October.

My name is Eva Maria Lewis and I have a slew of titles. I’m a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying sociology. I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Free Root Operation, which is a nonprofit combatting gun violence through a lens of compassion and opportunity in Black and Brown neighborhoods in Chicago. I am an artist, the daughter of a single mother, a born and raised Southsider, and a survivor. Most relevant to you all, I’m also a Chicago Scholar. I’m honored to share a bit about myself and my journey as a Chicago Scholar with you today.

I became interested in social justice when I realized that there was a side of the city where the grass is literally greener with a multitude of abundance in the form of grocery stores, excellent schools, clean parks, shops, and so much more. I am from the South Shore neighborhood, the last Black neighborhood on the lake, which many would associate with gun violence and other qualms. Because of the state of my neighborhood, I always acquired my education outside of it. For high school, I ended up traveling the farthest. My commute required me to wake up at 5 am to embark on an hour and a half journey on public transportation. I endured because I had a dream of receiving a high-quality education so that I could follow in the footsteps of my mother who is a first-generation college graduate. After two years of this, at 16, something about getting five hours of sleep just for an education struck a chord in me. I realized it was not just, and it could change. My passion to pursue equity was born from that struggle. And so, I began to plant the seeds for what would grow into the Free Root Operation. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.

Eva Maria and her mother Valerie Andrews-Lewis at the 25th Anniversary Celebration.

Since then, I’ve advocated for the safety and success of Black and Brown people in Chicago and in the United States at the United Nations and abroad, combatted gun violence and police brutality, and become a community organizer and leader. The moment the incredible folks at Chicago Scholars found out about my passion, support was never a matter of if but how. Chicago Scholars went above and beyond to provide tools so that I could build. After I got into college, like many of my peers I felt that my role as a Chicago Scholar was over. But, after our graduation, Chicago Scholars faculty made sure to tell us about all of the resources and opportunities we had access to while actually in college and beyond. I took them up on that. From allowing myself and my team to use the office for meetings and planning to helping us mass print community surveys, I recognized that when there was a missing piece I could go to my Chicago Scholars family for help. I was actually doing all of my nonprofit work at the office up until it closed because of COVID. The extra resources Chicago Scholars had to offer also equipped me to continue pursuing my degree even when it felt hard. Academically, professionally, and personally, Chicago Scholars made it clear that they were there to help ME thrive in all aspects. That sort of support and care is so rare. It encouraged me to persevere.

If there was ever a time to exercise perseverance, it was 2020. As you all know, the George Floyd protests last year sparked a worldwide recollection of racial injustice and systemic oppression. All of us were affected, and many of us were called to action. I was one of those people. I saw an opportunity to utilize those tools of innovation and perseverance I’d gained over the years. After the first day of protests, the bridges of the city rose and the already obvious segregated divides were more prominent than ever. Over a span of a couple of days, all grocery stores on the South Side were shut down and many wondered what protection looked like in the aftermath. Like many others, I got to work to mitigate harm. I started the Chicago Food Pairing Program which is now a recurring FRO initiative. Last year we raised and spent over $71,000 to provide groceries for over 500 families with the help of a network of volunteers from the North Side and suburbs. We were able to receive more funding to fully launch as a nonprofit and further sustain our programming.

Fast-forwarding a bit—this August, just two weeks before I embarked on my last semester of college, I won the Reebok Human Rights Award which grants $100,000 to changemakers to support their work. I recognize that an accolade like this is not usual for people from my community. I am grateful that, despite some of the challenges life faced me with, I have been invested in and allowed to create my own path and foster my dreams.

It is surreal to recount these successes, now approaching the other end of my Chicago Scholars journey as a self-employed budding college graduate. I wish I could tell the 17-year-old version of myself that first started the college readiness workshops how what I would learn and gain throughout these years would change my life. It is important to listen to and validate young people of color. In the work I do with the community now, I take from Chicago Scholars the value of providing people with what we can because there is always something we can do for others. I’m grateful to not have just been serviced by this program but to pass the blessings forward. Thank you to Chicago Scholars for sticking with me, and others like me along the way.

See Eva Maria Lewis Win the Reebok Human Rights Award

Meet the Scholar: Tony Liang, Class of 2014

From first generation Scholar to career driven all-star.  Tony Liang has barely scratched the surface. Tony’s will to succeed further in his career is now is ultimate goal and with the help of Chicago Scholar’s network he will be able to continue to strengthen and diversify his goals as a young professional.

Being a recent graduate, Tony’s focus is to learn and gain as much experience so that he can be in a position to take on larger roles and more responsibilities. A native of Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood it was not easy for him and his family.

“I came from a family that doesn’t understand English and being the first child to go to college, I was very lucky to have Chicago Scholars behind me through college and into my career.

That is why Chicago Scholars has been a much needed support group for me for a number of reasons. One reason was their extensive knowledge when I was applying to colleges. Chicago Scholars kept me on track and guided me every step of the way. Another reason was being able to meet amazing other Scholars that had the same, if not more, determination and ambition to succeed against all odds. Lastly, Chicago Scholar’s career guidance and their tenacity to keep in touch and inform Scholars about various opportunities is definitely what makes me view this organization as my friend, mentor and family.” 

Today, Tony’s goal is to continue to gain a competitive advantage over his peers, and to pass the CFA level 1 course. While working at Northern Trust as a Senior Analyst, Tony is also lifting up the next generation of leaders behind him by mentoring his  own group of Chicago Scholars who are all taking the path once walked.

Just like Tony, hundreds of other Chicago Scholar alumni all choose Chicago as their path to career success after college, and they are all contributing to the empowerment of the next generation. Our Chicago Scholars Alum are a part of a community that will forever strengthen and diversify Chicago’s workforce.

Catalyst Chicago’s “Take 5 Education News Roundup”

On that note … The Chicago Scholars Foundation, which helps more than a thousand youths enter and persist through college every year, announced last week that it will be opening a new headquarters on DePaul University’s downtown campus. The space will be more than four times the size of its current location, which Chicago Scholars Foundation President Dominique Jordan Turner hopes will help make the organization and its programs more accessible.

“We see relationship-building as critical, and we see our space as a way of making sure we’re always staying connected,” Turner said. “We want it to feel like a college campus–a cool space to hang out, with all the tools and resources our scholars need right in our office.” This year, the foundation reached 350 new college-aspiring students. By 2018, they’re hoping to bring that number up to a thousand.

Read More…

Meet the Scholar: Arianna Alexander, Class of 2019

University of Pennsylvania
Kenwood Academy

Arianna Alexander is well on her way to making all of her college access and success dreams come true.  Awarded over $3 million in scholarships, accepted into 6 out of 8 Ivy League schools, a Gates Millennium Scholar, and Valedictorian of Kenwood’s high school Class of 2015. Arianna realized her own potential as a high-achieving student was due to her determination to go to college.

“Going to college was my ultimate dream and the day I became a Chicago Scholar I knew that dream would come true. They helped my family and me with all the necessary resources and information to navigate the college process. Starting the college process early really helped me stay focused and on track and now I made it with a full ride to UPenn!”

From growing up in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood and now attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania I came a long way.  Because of Chicago Scholars I received a strong support network that I know I can always rely on even with I am away at school. Chicago Scholars is truly a community with no boundaries.”

“My advice to the next talented class of Scholars would be to appreciate the network and the endless advice for applying to college and remember that going to college is crucial.”

As we send off yet another talented group of scholars who are preparing to launch their journey into college and beyond. We are welcoming the class of 2020, 425 scholars who represent almost every high school and every neighborhood in Chicago. This movement within the college access and success cycle continues to shape and strengthen Chicago as the city of education.

Meet the Scholar: Stacey Kennedy, Class of 2010

City Colleges of Chicago, Career Counseling
University of Chicago, 2010
Adler School of Professional Psychology 2012

“I have the courage, education, and ability to help change the world.”

Stacey’s resilience has positioned her for success beyond the many challenges during her academic career. While in school she dealt with health difficulties that often prevented her from attending, but even in the hospital she says, “ I was determined to move forward with my education. I knew I could not do it all by myself so I made sure I had a plan in place to ensure I could make my academic dreams come true.  It was all because of Chicago Scholars, who was there throughout my college experience. I not only completed college but also excelled into graduate school.”

“I am a better person because of Chicago Scholars. Chicago Scholars asked me what my goals were, and then gave me the tools and the mentoring to reach those goals. Chicago Scholars was one of my guides, a consistent support that was always available during my academic journey. Today, I have the courage, education, and ability to help change the world because Chicago Scholars took the time, effort and true dedication to help change me for the better.”

Stacey’s Vision for the future

I want to continue being a change agent of support and be involved in programs which help our young people excel through the avenues of education and counseling. Which will introduce young people to a life, which extends beyond their own backyard.”

Today, Stacey works as a Career Counselor for the City Colleges of Chicago and hopes to continue working with organizations whose goal is to help first-generation students break barriers in education and job markets.

Meet the Scholar: Andres Ayala, Class of 2014

GoHealth, Data Analyst
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2014

Andres’s determination to succeed kept him focused on getting into college and persisting. The pressure of being the first in his family to go to college blinded him with doubts and questions, until he received an opportunity that changed his life. Chicago Scholars was that opportunity.

Andres says, “I am thankful for the guidance and helped I received from Chicago Scholars, which made my experience transitioning from high school to college as smooth as possible. I believe the program is a major reason for my current success and achievements, both personally and professionally.”

“I believe the Chicago Scholars is a major reason for my current success and achievements, both personally and professionally.” 

Andres’ Vision for the future  

“I want to advance the city’s youth in reminding them that their background does not determine their life outcomes. Living in Roseland, Little Village, Englewood or any other crime-ridden neighborhood doesn’t matter. I personally want to give back to the city by helping programs like Chicago Scholars to open doors of opportunity for our youth, the way they were opened for my peers and myself.”

Today, Andres works as a Data Analyst for GoHealth, a tech startup that is one of Fortune magazine’s 8 Chicago startups to watch. He also serves on the Chicago Scholars Alumni Leadership Council, which provides strategic support to the organization’s alumni programming, and ensures that alumni are socially connected and professionally prepared to be leaders in Chicago’s workforce.

Meet the Scholar: Daniela Fernandez, Class of 2017

Georgetown University Class of 2017

Growing up in a single-parent household on Chicago’s West Side, Daniela encountered many challenges in her journey to college. As a first-generation student, she lacked a support system to guide her through the college application process and transition successfully to campus. So as a high school junior, she applied to and was accepted into the Chicago Scholars program.  Daniela says:

“Chicago Scholars was my support system through the most difficult times of my life. The staff became my family; they advised me through the college application process, provided me with an internship when I took a gap year, and exposed me to the endless possibilities that life had to offer. It is thanks to Chicago Scholars that I now attend Georgetown University and more importantly, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if it weren’t for all of my Chicago Scholars mentors.”


Daniela’s Vision for the Future  

“My short term goals are to attend business school and to pursue a career in finance. My long term goals are to revolutionize the impact investing market and redirect capital to help improve the lives of others. My vision for the City of Chicago is to improve the living conditions of low-income communities and make sure that every child is able to live up to their fullest potential. In the future, I will give back to Chicago Scholars and other organizations that are revitalizing the city of Chicago. I also plan to be a role model and mentor any students that need my support.”

About Daniela

Daniela, a government and economics major now in her Junior Year at Georgetown University, is the founder and President of the Georgetown ‘Sustainable Oceans Alliance’ (SOA), a student-led organization that empowers Millennials to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of our oceans. Recognized for her work by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Daniela has spoken at U.S. Capitol Hill Ocean Week and the World Affairs Council Conference. In 2015, she was named Student Leader of the Year by the Georgetown McDonough School of Business Global Social Enterprise Initiative. In April 2016, Daniela was named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year

Meet the Scholar: Melissa Sharp, Class of 2016

Northwestern University, Class of 2016

As a first generation college student, Melissa lacked the guidance she needed to navigagte the college search and application process. As a high school junior, she applied to and was accepted into the Chicago Scholars program. Through Chicago Scholars, she applied to Northwestern University was accepted at the Chicago Scholars Onsite College Admissions Forum.  This fall, she will enter the University of Iowa Law School Class of 2019 with a full tuition scholarship.  Melissa says:

“Having the connections at Chicago Scholars to be able to take advantage of job and internship opportunities not only allowed me to pay for a lot of expenses during college, but also to connect to a legal internship that solidified my interest in law. I also got an amazing career mentor that helps me constantly; searching for schools, talking through opportunities, and bringing me back to earth when things are just insane.


Melissa’s Vision for the Future  

In June, Melissa is looking forward to being the first person in her family to graduate college. She plans to graduate from law school in 2019 and hopes to find a career in the legal field. In addition to paying off her student loans, getting married and starting a family, Melissa plans to make a difference in the lives of Chicago’s youth by coming back to Chicago Scholars as a mentor.

“I hope to be able to continue giving back to Chicago Scholars, through peer mentoring, collaboration to create and improve Chicago Scholars initiatives, and perhaps one day create a new partnership in order to help more and more Chicago Public School students graduate high school, move on to college and graduate, and figure out what they want to do in life.  In particular, I want to provide the level of support, encouragement, and mentorship that I have received in my years as a scholar.

About Melissa

Melissa graduated from Northside College Preparatory Class of 2012. Through the Chicago Scholars application process and Onsite College Admissions Forum, she was accepted into Northwestern University and matriculated to the Class of 2016. In June, Melissa will graduate with a B.A. in Economics with a double major in Legal Studies and a minor in French.

Melissa completed a summer internship with Chicago Scholars partner Goldberg Kohn, which not only helped her to affirm her interest in pursuing a career in law, but also helped her to prepare for and apply to law school. She recently accepted a full tuition scholarship to the University of Iowa College of Law, and will matriculate as part of the Class of 2019.

As one of the first Chicago Scholars Peer Mentor Coordinators, Melissa has coached more than 30 peer mentors and mentees this past year.

Want to support Scholars like Melissa?  There are many ways to get involved!  Click here to join the movement.

Chicago Scholar Olivia Villarreal featured in Lawndale News

Olivia (Class of 2011) describes what it was like to become a Chicago Scholar and how she remains involved with our organization as a mentor.  For Olivia, being part of the Chicago Scholars community became part of her identity.

Olivia says:

“When I first got the news that I was accepted into the program, it felt as though I was being accepted into a higher world of successful people and exclusivity based on all of my hard work in school. It was an incredible feeling; even being accepted to college didn’t compare. It was a feeling of belonging to a community where hopes and dreams come true through education, resources, and encouragement. Chicago Scholars taught me that it was not a matter of “if” I would get into college, it was a matter of “which” school would I choose. I was not chosen by a college first, I was chosen by Chicago Scholars first, and this organization helped form an important part of my identity: Latina, Chicago, and Scholar.”

Click here to read the full article on the Lawndale News website.

Hoy features Chicago Scholars and Class of 2020 Scholar

Hoy journalist Laura Rodriguez interviews Class of 2020 Scholar Maritza Palafox and her family in this feature story about Chicago Scholars.  Maritza plans to attend University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall.

Laura also interviews several other students preparing to attend universities across the country and who will be the first in their families to attend college.

Director of College Access, Jaime Garcia, also speaks with Laura about the broader impact of Chicago Scholars: “By working with under-resourced students, we are really able to change the narrative of the city. These students are going to come back after they graduate and contribute to their neighborhoods.”

Click here to read the story and watch the video


Photo credit: Laura Rodriguez, Hoy

Meet the Scholar: Christopher Wilson, Class of 2020

University of Wisconsin – Madison, Class of 2020

Growing up in Chicago’s South Austin neighborhood, Christopher did not have many role models to look up to who were pursuing a college degree. Christopher chose to view this challenge as a source of motivation: he decided to become that role model for his younger brothers.

As a high school junior, he applied to and was accepted into the Chicago Scholars program. Through Chicago Scholars, he applied to his top choice school, University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he will be attending this fall with a full tuition scholarship. Christopher says:

“Senior year for me was hard enough with all of the AP classes, sports, and college applications that I had to focus on. If I wasn’t a part of Chicago Scholars, I would have gotten lost in all the madness. This program helped me and hundreds of other students plan ahead so that we got everything taken care of in a punctual and efficient manner. They provided weekly writing workshops for college and scholarship essays. They had monthly workshops to introduce the next step of action in the college application process. All the information and guidance that they gave me helped make my dream of higher education become a reality.

Chicago Scholars has been like training wheels for me. They have kept me from falling down when things got shaky with school.”


Christopher’s Vision for the Future

This fall, Christopher is looking forward to beginning his college journey at University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he will be pursuing a degree in computer science. Afterwards, he plans to pursue a Masters degree in software engineering and development and ultimately become a software engineer or information technology manager. While his short-term goals involve creating an efficient way to increase data capacities in computer processors, his long-term goal is to make a difference in the world.

“I will help build Chicago’s reputation by giving back to programs like Chicago Scholars that helps bring out the fullest potential of students. I plan to create a foundation that will assist future generation students in paying for college.”

About Christopher

Christopher will be graduating from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Academy in June and will begin college at University of Wisconsin – Madison as part of the Class of 2020 this fall. At our College Choice Celebration in May, Fox 32 Chicago covered Christopher’s story and college decision announcement.   Reporter Craig Wall joined Christopher at his home and followed him from his neighborhood to the College Choice Celebration at Navy Pier.

Click here to watch the coverage


Want to support Scholars like Christopher?  There are many ways to get involved!  Click here to join the movement.

We’re celebrating Proof Point Day!


The Chicago Scholars team dressed up in green today to participate in ProofPoint Day – a day to celebrate first generation college students.

94% of Chicago Scholars are first in their families to go to college – our Scholars know what it means to be first generation and have experienced firsthand the transformative impact that graduating from college has on themselves, their families and their communities.

ProofPoint Day is a day to be visible and be vocal about being first generation.  Being first generation is a badge of honor – if you’re first generation or an ally, join us in celebrating being first!

Meet the Scholar: Michera Dobbs, Class of 2015

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Class of 2015

In high school, Michera says she was shy, which made it difficult for her to reach out for the support she needed to navigate the college application process.

As a high school junior, she was accepted into the Chicago Scholars program. Through Chicago Scholars, she applied to and was accepted to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a concentration in Pre-Veterinary Medicine.

After graduation, she returned to Chicago and she currently works as the PAWS for Life Coordinator at PAWS Chicago while she researches graduate school options.

Michera says:

“Chicago Scholars has been there for me throughout my entire collegiate journey. From the early stages assisting with the college application process, to providing career mentors who helped navigate me through choosing a career and schools that had good programs for what I wanted to do. This mentorship continued on, allowing me to connect with other scholars that were on my campus and eventually becoming a mentor myself. 

Chicago Scholars laid the foundation for me to network with my peers and with professionals, through my Chicago Scholars cohort in the beginning of my college journey and now my current role on the Alumni Leadership Council. These roles allowed me to not only be a leader but to step outside my comfort zone and network with others.”

Michera’s Vision for the Future  

While Michera pursues her passion of helping animals and pet-owners, she remains deeply involved with Chicago Scholars.  As a former peer mentor and now as a member of the Alumni Leadership Council, Michera is committed to helping students like herself succeed through Chicago Scholars.  She says:

“My long-term vision for the City of Chicago is improving quality of education and access to opportunity for our youth. I will advance this vision by serving as a role model and mentor for our youth as well as continuing to be involved with programs such as Chicago Scholars that play an important role in advancing students.”




Chicago Scholars
247 S. State Street, Suite 700
Chicago, IL 60604





Chicago Scholars
247 S. State Street, Suite 700
Chicago, IL 60604