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Meet Bridget Drury, Associate Director of Scholar Supports & Wellness

For the past month, we’ve been walking you through the ins and outs of our Scholar Dollars and ELD Grant programs, as well as our incredible Scholarship offerings. This month, we’re bringing you some one on one interviews with scholarship funders and partners, Scholars who have received funding, and more.

We spoke with Bridget Drury, Associate Director of Scholar Supports and Wellness at Chicago Scholars, about what resources are available for Scholars to safeguard their health and wellness, the Lifeline Grant, and honoring Mental Health Awareness month all year round.

What is your role and what does it entail? 

My role is the Associate Director of Scholar Supports and Wellness. I oversee everything health and wellness related for our college Scholars, but also support other areas of the programming, such as identifying and informing Scholars of free and low-cost resources, or giving referrals, as well as having events where we teach Scholars low-cost ways to take care of themselves. When you’re a broke college student, it’s important to learn how to create balance as you’re juggling so many things. I also oversee the emergency fund, known as Lifeline. It exists to make sure Scholars have their basic needs covered when the unexpected happens. One mishap can throw your college dreams out the window. Whether that be rent or food, we make sure to holistically address their wellness, financial, and mental and physical health needs.”

What do you find fulfilling about your work? 

“I really like seeing the direct impact of my work, and the work we do as an organization. For Lifeline, those funds are going to pay a college Scholar’s rent, or paying a car maintenance fee, so we can see the short-term impact. Working here for almost five years, I’ve seen a lot of Scholars graduate, and the Lifeline funding can often be crucial. Nonprofit work is often very emotionally taxing on staff – but at Chicago Scholars we can see that the work we do matters and that we really are helping our Scholars.”

What is something about your job that you wish people knew? 

“I wish more people knew that Lifeline isn’t a scholarship – it’s for the unexpected. Sometimes stakeholders might think they can use it to pay for books, tuition, or other expected costs. We try to reserve the funds for students that are going through emergency situations. We don’t want people to prove their trauma or poverty. We recently had a Scholar that had an unexpected death in the family and needed to go home for the funeral and then fly back to school to take their finals. In part, I’m trying to help Scholars budget their money. Every student needs to pay for books, but we try to reserve funds for the unexpected. Every penny of the Lifeline Grant is spent each each, so I’m always trying to assess what is an emergency versus an expense.”

How does your work fit into the ecosystem of Chicago Scholars and our Scholars lives? 

I think that especially in the last couple years, the Scholars that are graduating have had a great experience, and they want to come back and help. We had a panelist that came back as an Alum to participate. He wants to help. It feeds into a phrase we like to say – ‘once a Scholar, always a Scholar.’ We can instill that sense of belonging and community and Scholars find that impactful. They feel they benefitted from our program, both in mentoring and the oneonone support in building connections. Scholars want to come back and stay engaged with us.”

Do you have a favorite scholarship related story/memory?

A general thought is that in the last two years, at the end of every semester or graduation season, I intentionally reach out to the Lifeline recipients. I follow up and see if they are persisting or graduating. I had several Scholars say they were graduating on time because of the Lifeline funding. One Scholar had received three Lifeline grants throughout college and when I reached out, he told me he had a job lined up after graduation. I like hearing their stories and when they share the good news. Oftentimes we get the bad news, the emergencies that need help, but it’s great to get the good.”

What does your day-to-day work look like? 

“I spend most days checking Lifeline requests that come in, or reaching out or collaborating with other staff to talk to Scholars about their financial needs. Sometimes I’m working with college partners to see where they can provide support to our Scholars. I evaluate survey data and what Scholars say they need. We have the college success survey going out this month, and I look at the mental health data and see whether they’re receiving the support they need. I also work with staff to see where more partnerships can be brought in, and what resources we need to look into creating.”

Do you have anything else you want people to know about our work with Wellness for our Scholars?

I’d like people to know that by donating any amount to our Lifeline Grant, you’re making a direct impact on our Scholars and what we can offer them in emergencies, when they need us most. There is a lot of data out there that shows that emergency funds are very impactful in terms of college persistence, and the Lifeline Grant is no different. You can be part of that. 

Discover more about our scholarship opportunities, read about recent awardees, and learn how to become a funder by visiting our Chicago Scholars Scholarships webpage: If you are interested in exploring opportunities to sponsor a scholarship for our students, please contact us at 

Chicago Scholars May Mentor of the Month

Korbin Houstin, Mentor since 2023

Korbin Houstin, May Mentor of the Month

As of today, there’s just one more day to apply to become a Chicago Scholars Mentor! Be sure to get your application in before it closes on the 3rd.

In celebration, we’re introducing you to our final Mentor of the month! Over the past several months, we’ve introduced you to some of our current incredible mentors, given you a special look at what called them to take on this responsibility, and shared stories of connection with their Scholar cohorts – and maybe inspired you to become a mentor too!

Our May Mentor of the Month is Korbin Houstin, who started her journey with Chicago Scholars as a Scholar from the class of 2018. After her college graduation and several big moves in her professional career, she returned to bring her experience and compassion to a new class of Scholars, this time as a mentor.

“I wished that I felt comfortable being a mentor sooner, but I came to it in my own time. Despite going through the Chicago Scholars program myself, when I first graduated from college I was still trying to find my footing. At the time, I didn’t feel that I had much to offer as a mentor – but I wish I would have seen that just by showing up and being a reliable adult to lean on for advice, I was already bringing everything a mentor needs to the table.”

“However, I did join the Chicago Scholars Alumni Board along with volunteering at events with scholars. It was at one event in particular when I was helping a Scholar that it really occurred to me. Despite being fairly early in my career, and without having a wide professional network to offer, I was still an alumni who really knew the program and could guide scholars though it when they ran in to issues.”

During her first year as a mentor for Chicago Scholars, Korbin has been able to build relationships with the Scholars in her cohort, guiding them into their first year of college and beyond. As she continues her mentoring experience, she’s seen how impactful being a resource for Scholars can be, and hopes other people are encouraged to sign up.

“I encourage anyone who’s interested in helping youth to be a mentor. By signing up, you’re directly helping college bound youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, just by being a stable and encouraging presence. Relationships between scholars and mentors vary, but at the very least you can be a resource to a scholar who may not have many other places to turn.”

Inspired by Korbin’s story? Head here to learn more about applying to be a mentor! The mentor application is open to support our new incoming class of Chicago Scholars – head here to check out the application and apply before the deadline on May 3rd!

Chicago Scholars Emerge April Career Partner Highlight

April Career Partner Highlight:

PPM America

We’re just over one month away from the start of our Emerge Summer Career & Leadership Program – and to celebrate, we’re kicking off a series of spotlights on several of our incredible Emerge Career Partners, the companies and organizations that make our Emerge internships possible. For each, we’ll give you a special look at what called them to partner with us, tell stories of their Scholar interns – and maybe inspire you and your company to partner too!

Our April Career Partner of the Month is PPM America, a Chicago-based real estate and investment firm that has hosted several Emerge Interns, and is always looking to deepen their connection to the Chicago community through partnership and consistent work. Read more to see all of their responses:


Firstly, why did you choose to partner with Chicago Scholars?

“Jackson, PPM America (PPM) and our dedicated associates are proud to support Chicago Scholars in providing students opportunities to build future skills to thrive. Pairing corporate sponsorship with employee engagement multiplies our collective impact with local nonprofits. We give priority to organizations like Chicago Scholars that provide valuable programming to strengthen families and create economic opportunities, ultimately building stronger communities for everyone.”

To continue, why did PPM choose to go beyond just supporting Chicago Scholars as a general financial sponsor, but to sponsor an intern as part of the Emerge program?

We recognize the positive impact we can make in our communities extends beyond our financial commitment.  Our employees are eager to invest their time and experience to enhance our efforts with our non-profit partners.  The Emerge program provided an excellent opportunity for our employees to directly engage with our community and amplify the value our organization places upon the diverse strengths our employees bring to work every day.”

What is PPM looking to accomplish through your internship program?

“PPM’s robust internship curriculum aims to foster and deepen connections within our local communities by creating meaningful pathways and opportunities for young professionals in the world of asset management while also providing mentorship and leadership skill development.”

What qualities does PPM look for in potential Emerge interns? 

“We look for the same qualities in interns that we pursue in all professionals that join our team: individuals who exhibit humbleness, directness, and dedication to delivering results.”

Finally, what are your hopes for the young adults of Chicago?

“We hope that through our passion of giving back to our communities, the young adults of Chicago are provided bountiful opportunities and dedicated resources to support and inspire them in achieving financial freedom and positively impacting their community.”

Inspired by PPM’s work with our Scholars? Head here to learn more about becoming a partner with us!

Announcing the 2024 CS Ways Core Values Mentor Award Recipients

Chicago Scholars is proud to recognize four of our mentors as the winners of our annual CS Ways Core Values Awards

The CS Ways Core Values Awards are awarded by nomination from the entire Chicago Scholars community, including staff, Scholars, and mentors. Winners represent one of the Chicago Scholars Ways Core Values: We Show Up, We Keep Our Word, We Dream Big, We Care For Each Other, and We Model The Way. 

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Announcing the 2024 Mentor of the Year and CS Ways Core Values Award Recipients

Chicago Scholars is proud to recognize six mentors as the winners of our annual mentorship awards, Mentor of the Year and The CS Ways Core Values Awards.

Each year, the Mentor of the Year is selected through nominations from high school and first-year college Scholars.   

Mayra Miranda is the Year 2 Mentor of the Year and a Chicago Scholars Alumna (Class of 2013). She said she is grateful to be named Mentor of the Year because it’s proof that her mentees know she is there to support and celebrate them. 

“As I reflect on the numerous ways that mentors have impacted my life, being nominated by my Scholars for this award is an honor,” Mayra said. “As a CS Alum, giving back to the organization that was instrumental during my college experience and receiving this award is a full circle moment. I am so proud to be part of the Chicago Scholars community, a community filled with exceptional leaders that are committed to supporting and uplifting Scholars.” 

For Mayra, the best parts of mentoring with Chicago Scholars are the conversations with her mentees and the ability to collaborate with Chicago Scholars staff. She said the experience has been rewarding.  

The impact of Chicago Scholars is one that I know first-hand. As an alumna of the program, I remember the support I received to help me navigate the college application process. I will never forget my own Onsite experience,” Mayra said. “I encourage anyone that is interested in supporting Scholars to navigate the college application process or is interested in higher education to volunteer. Chicago Scholars is wonderful at providing tools, resources, trust, and support to mentors. Volunteering as a mentor has been a transformational experience.” 


Schafaris Turner is the Year 1 Mentor of the Year and a Chicago Scholars Alumna (Class of 2016).  

“It means so much that my Scholars thought so highly of me to nominate me,” Schafaris said. “Many times, I wonder if I’m doing enough, if I’m being supportive enough, or even available enough. This award serves as recognition of the work I have been doing and validation that I’m giving my all to my Scholars.” 

Schafaris said her favorite part of the year is when her Scholars announce the college they will attend in the fall.  

“It’s beautiful to see all of their hard work and determination finally come to fruition,” she said. 

Each year, her Scholars teach her something new about the world and about herself, Schafaris said. In particular, Scholars have modeled the way for showing up as your authentic self in all contexts, a trait Schafaris said she admires. 

“It warms my heart to know that this organization has not strayed away from their mission after all these years,” Schafaris said. “By getting involved with Chicago Scholars, you’ll have the opportunity to be a resource to the next generation of leaders. You will also have the opportunity to network with other amazing professionals that have chosen to volunteer as well.  


The CS Ways Core Values Awards are awarded by nomination from the entire Chicago Scholars community, including staff, Scholars, and mentors. Winners represent one of the Chicago Scholars Ways Core Values: We Show Up, We Keep Our Word, We Dream Big, We Care For Each Other, and We Model The Way. 


Alleson Knox is a Year 2 mentor and is excited to have two mentees at her alma mater, Howard University. She was recognized for modeling the value “We Show Up.”

“I’m grateful to have supported my mentees in their college application process and transition,” Alleson said. “I realize these relationships will extend far beyond the official terms of mentorship, and I look forward to the many memories and wonderful things they will accomplish in the coming years.” 

Alleson said she encourages potential mentors to jump in and be open to sharing their life experience – especially their mistakes and lessons learned from them.  

Students deserve our unwavering support during such a monumental part of their lives,” she said. “By fostering a culture of mentorship and support, Chicago Scholars not only enhances the college application process for students, but also cultivates a community where aspirations are nurtured and dreams are realized.” 


Andrea Syukur has been a Chicago Scholars Mentor since 2017. She said she was surprised to receive a CS Ways Award for the “We Model the Way” value and is grateful to be recognized by her fellow Mentors.  

For Andrea, the best part of mentoring with Chicago Scholars has been working with college Scholars while “knowing the sweet rewards of the long game.” 

“We meet kids at a point in their lives where they’re about to embark on their biggest journey, and then some fall out of touch due to the rhythm of life,” Andrea said. “Then when you least expect it: a text, a Snapchat message, or a LinkedIn message comes in thanking you for all you’ve done to get them through college and where they’re at now because of the experiences they had at school. No reward is sweeter than hearing about the successes of your past mentees.” 

Andrea encouraged anyone who wants to feel hopeful for the future of Chicago should consider getting involved with Chicago Scholars. 

“Chicago Scholars helps you recognize the immense potential of our Chicago community. Our Scholars represent the best and brightest the city has to offer from all of its diverse neighborhoods,” she said. “This work is for those looking to see what our future looks like for our city.”

Kiley Kio said receiving a CS Ways Award for “We Dream Big” “represents a significant milestone” in her journey as a young professional.  

I am grateful for the concept of the American Dream, the countless mentors that have imparted their words of wisdom, I am also grateful for the many long hours that have carried me to this very moment,” Kiley said. “This award represents a personal milestone as it validates not only this path I have tried to trailblaze, but also the impact I have seemingly had in helping Chicago’s youth achieve similar life checkpoints.” 

 Kiley’s favorite parts of mentoring with Chicago Scholars have been the relationships she’s built with her mentees and co-mentors and the chance to be a more empathetic leader. 

 “I would strongly everyone – at any age or stage of life – to get involved with the revolutionary work brewing at Chicago Scholars,” Kiley said. “Chicago Scholars is an organization where people are seen, heard, and deeply valued.” 


Lovey Marshall is a Year 2 mentor and has been a mentor since 2022. She has been recognized for modelling the value, “We Care for Each Other.”

 “I love showing up and supporting Scholars, but I never thought they were actually paying attention to me,” Lovey said. “ I am honored that they saw me and my contribution to their journey.” 

 The best part of Lovey’s experience as a mentor has been watching her mentees see their dreams come true.  

“Chicago Scholars opens the door wide so Scholars can see the world,” she said. “Sometimes that world is going to a college in California and being able to visit that school. When scholars get into the school they want or a lot of schools and they get the option to chose which one they want, its so fun to see their excitement.” 

Lovey said she has strong relationships with her mentees, even hearing from some that they want to continue checking in with her even after their formal mentor/mentee relationship ends. She said that she would encourage others to become mentors in order to have this kind of lasting impact on a student’s life. 

From my Scholars, I have learned that they desire to impact the world through change and advocacy for the betterment of all,” Lovey said. “Young people who are still in high school and headed into college see the future and how they can impact it….That is amazing.”   


The application for 2024-2026 mentors closes on May 3, 2024. Learn more about the program and submit your application here 

Meet Our 2024 Chicago Scholars Mentors of the Year!

Meet Our Year One and Year Mentors of the Year

Each year, our Mentors work to build incredible and lasting relationships with the Scholars in their cohorts. They give our Scholars a steady role model to rely on as they prepare for and head off to college. All of our Mentors go above and beyond with their Scholars – but we’re incredibly proud to honor our chosen 2024 Mentors of the Year: Schafaris Turner for Year One Mentor, and Mayra Miranda for Year Two Mentor – both of whom are Chicago Scholars Alumni.

We spoke with each of them about what it means to be recognized for these awards, and how it drives them forward as they continue their journeys as a mentor with us. Read on for their responses!

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Meet Amy Galibois, Director of Scholar Supports & Scholarships

For the past month, we’ve been walking you through the ins and outs of our Scholar Dollars and ELD Grant programs, as well as our incredible Scholarship offerings. This month, we’re bringing you some one on one interviews with scholarship funders and partners, Scholars who have received funding, and more.

We spoke with Amy Galibois, Director of Scholar Supports and Scholarships at Chicago Scholars, about what she finds fulfilling in her work, what her day to day work looks like, and more.

What is your role and what does it entail? 

I am the Director of Scholar Supports and Scholarships. That means I oversee all scholarship work for the organization. The main goal is connecting Scholars to scholarships, to close financial gaps. Ideally, to help them matriculate and persist through college without loans, helping make college financially feasible. I’ll have been with Chicago Scholars 5 years in July.”

What do you find fulfilling about your work? 

“Building relationships with scholarship recipients. Watching them realize their passions, explore their interests, soak in the college experience in their field of study, without worrying about the financial stress piece. If they aren’t as worried about affording college or putting the mental/physical time and energy into finding the funding, it’s fulfilling to see them devote that energy, time, and attention into exciting avenues, setting them up to reach the goals they have for themselves. So go ahead and give it your all to a club you want to lead or devote your mental energy to preparing for med school, or whatever it might be without having to stress about the finances.”

What is something about your job that you wish people knew? 

What sticks with me is that the impact of scholarships goes far beyond the financial support. At the base level, it’s helpful financially, and receiving a scholarship can give such an affirmation of what a student has been driving for. The fact someone believes in them, says they’ll put their money behind them, the encouragement piece. And the community that is created with other recipients and donors can also be very important. Sometimes with scholarship partners, there are multiple levels of benefits beyond the financial piece of a scholarship.  

Depending on the scholarship, it may open the door to another opportunity or help the recipient strengthen or create the network they can lean on in their career journey. Perhaps they’ll have the chance to connect to someone in a career field because of their scholarship, or even form a relationship with someone who could serve as a mentor.  

The many levels of support that come with receiving a scholarship make it impactful beyond the money. Of course, the money matters, but that isn’t all of it. Winning a scholarship, that’s another achievement and it might make other people take a second look and take a chance on the recipient, the skills they bring, and their accomplishments.”

How does your work fit into the ecosystem of Chicago Scholars and our Scholars lives? 

I love my place in the organization because there is a strong piece of my work that gives me the opportunity to connect with Scholars. At the same time, I enjoy the opportunity to build relationships with donors and other scholarship providers in the community, and also help to connect other providers to our scholars. Even if it’s not a scholarship I oversee, we can still support our Scholars in putting forward a strong application for other great programs that offer financial assistance and much more. We work closely with other providers, getting to know donors, partners, and families – all in support of our Scholars.”

Do you have a favorite scholarship related story/memory?

“I am fortunate to get to know our CS scholarship recipients and to witness their journeys throughout the college years. When they’re just starting off, when they are applying for scholarships, seeing them come to an event, meeting them as they are on the cusp of their college journey and witnessing how they grow over the course of college. Seeing them find their way, exploring new interests, joining clubs, getting those internships, studying abroad, and persisting to graduation. It’s really powerful to see them grow throughout the progression of their college experience. It’s very special.”

What does your day-to-day work look like? 

“For a potential donor, it may help to know what I do in the management of the CS scholarships. I oversee the administration from scholarship development in collaboration with donors, to hosting the application, supporting Scholars through the application process, reviewing applications, selecting recipients, dispersing funds, and checking in on the recipients throughout college to ensure they are on track and to connect them with helpful resources. I manage the full annual cycle of the work – it’s very fulfilling.” 

Discover more about our scholarship opportunities, read about recent awardees, and learn how to become a funder by visiting our Chicago Scholars Scholarships webpage: If you are interested in exploring opportunities to sponsor a scholarship for our students, please contact us at 

Meet Rusty Cohen Scholarship Recipient Marci Santos

For the past month, we’ve been walking you through the ins and outs of our Scholar Dollars and ELD Grant programs, as well as our incredible Scholarship offerings. This month, we’re bringing you some one on one interviews with scholarship funders and partners, Scholars who have received funding, and more.

We spoke with Marci Santos, current Sophomore at Hope College, and recipient of the Rusty Cohen Legacy Scholarship Fund with Chicago Scholars and Magid, about how she landed the scholarship, what it’s allowed her the freedom to do, and what it means to her to be a recipient.

Hi Marci! Tell Us A Bit About Yourself and Where You Go To School

I am a First Generation Latina student studying Business and Political Science at Hope College. I’m also a Chicago Scholar from the Class of 2027, as well as a recipient of the Rusty Cohen Scholarship. I am currently a Phelps Scholar, Vander Werf Scholar and am involved in a number of student organizations on campus!”

Can you tell us about the Scholarship you received?

I am a recipient of the Rusty Cohen Legacy Scholarship. This scholarship is in honor of Rusty Cohen, who was the leader of Magid Glove and Safety. He was a personable and generous man who worked to keep people safe at work and supported young people in attaining higher education. This scholarship aims to support students working towards a college education with preference towards those interested in the Environmental Health and Safety careers.”

How were you able to secure your scholarship?

“When the Magid site visit came around, I jumped at the chance to go, and expressed a high interest in the community and work they did there. I also got the opportunity to connect with the employees at Magid while learning about their jobs during a career fair. During my application and interview, I was able to leverage this previous visit and exposure. Most of all, I made sure to tell my story and be myself. At my core I am hardworking and a light hearted which I brought into my interview.”

Finally, how has the scholarship impacted your college experience and journey?

“Being a recipient of the Rusty Cohen Scholarship has allowed me to do things I had never thought of before coming to college. I’m a First Generation student, so I had no real reference to the classes I would be taking or what opportunities there would even be on campus for me. This scholarship lifted the financial load significantly on me and my family. With the Scholarship, I’ve had the freedom to explore and take advantage of pretty much all of the opportunities on campus. I joined the Business Club and traveled to Washington D.C and Chicago to learn about different career opportunities which I wouldn’t have been able to without this scholarship. Not only that, but I have been able to allocate more time to my studies and maintain good grades.”

Interested in starting your own scholarship with Chicago Scholars? Reach out to our Director of Scholar Support and Scholarships, Amy Galibois, at Or, want to donate to our larger scholarship funding? Head HERE!

Behind the Scenes With Generations Scholarship Co-Founder Andy Duerkop

For the past month, we’ve been walking you through the ins and outs of our Scholar Dollars and ELD Grant programs, as well as our incredible Scholarship offerings. This month, we’re bringing you some one on one interviews with scholarship funders and partners, Scholars who have received funding, and more.

We spoke with Andy Duerkop, founder of the Generations Scholarship with Chicago Scholars, around why he chose to work with CS, why founding a scholarship was important for him, and what his experience has been like meeting student recipients over the years.

What was your catalyst for creating a scholarship with Chicago Scholars?

My wife and I have been very lucky that we had people in our lives who made sure that both of us, as well as our children, were able to attend college. Our grandparents and our parents appreciated the importance of higher education and, early on, established college funds to pay for our family’s college costs.  The Generations Scholarship was named with our parents and grandparents in mind and was created to “pay it forward” so that future recipients will have the opportunity to attend college and, hopefully, will someday be able to help  someone else — a son, daughter, niece, grandson —  also attend college.”

“We were lucky to be able to partner with Chicago Scholars early upon creation of the Generations Scholarship.  Not only were they able to help administer the scholarship but they also had access to the college-bound high school students who were most in need of the funds.  Every step of the way, it has been a true partnership that continues to grow.”

What do you wish people knew about starting a scholarship fund?

Our biggest obstacle in starting a scholarship fund was finding the bridge between the college funds and the qualified students.  Choosing the scholarship recipient was only half our battle.  After making the award we needed to make sure that there were supports in place to assure that the recipients had every opportunity to be successful and thrive their first year in school.  We were only able to build our scholarship by partnering with Chicago Scholars to be that bridge.”

Finally, is there a story from a scholarship recipient that you often come back to?

Before awarding a scholarship, we host interviews with each finalist.  Through those interviews we have met some of the most amazing students.  Each one has their own story and each is deserving in their own way of the scholarship funds.  They are tremendous people and we have enjoyed keeping in touch with all of our scholarship winners and celebrating their college successes with them.”

Interested in starting your own scholarship with Chicago Scholars? Reach out to our Director of Scholar Support and Scholarships, Amy Galibois, at Or, want to donate to our larger scholarship funding? Head HERE!

Chicago Scholars April Mentor of the Month

Michael L Smith, Mentor since 2018

As of today, there’s just one more month to apply to become a Chicago Scholars Mentor!

In celebration, we’ve got just two more Mentor highlights as part of our Mentor of the month series, where we introduce you to some of our current incredible mentors, give you a special look at what called them to take on this responsibility, tell stories of connection with their Scholar cohorts – and maybe inspire you to become a mentor too!

Our April Mentor of the Month is Michael L Smith, who has been working with our Scholars since 2018. He grew up watching his own father work as a mentor to youth in the Woodlawn neighborhood, inspiring Michael to follow in his footsteps.

“My dad gave his time to help influence and impact the lives of young people in the Woodlawn Neighborhood where I grew up. As a small boy, under the age of 10, I constantly witnessed young men ringing our doorbell. I would run to see who it was, and each time, they would ask for Mr. Louis – my dad. He would go out to talk with them, sometimes even invited the young folks in and talk with them about ways to be a better person. What I remember most about my father’s work as a mentor was how much of his own time and attention he gave to each person that came to our door. I reflected on this quite a bit later on in my own life. Mentorship was not a common term in the 1960’s and 70’s, but it was commonplace in my house.”

“Now, as a mentor myself, I have direct involvement in guiding the successful journeys and outcomes of students eager to work towards pursuing higher education at the University and College level. I’ve had so many memorable experiences with Scholars over the years, but one that really stands out for me was at Onsite of this past year, when I was able to introduce the Scholars in my cohort to Chicago’s Mayor, Brandon Johnson, whom I’ve known well for many years. To see how excited they were, and how much drive it gave them in their college interviews that day, it brought me so much joy.”

Over his six years as a Chicago Scholars Mentor, Michael has guided dozens of Scholars into college, and onto fulfilling careers. As he continues his mentoring experience, he looks forward to meeting the CS class of 2029, and helping his students along to bigger and brighter things.

“My goal as a mentor for the coming year is to support my Scholar Cohort with guidance in getting scholarships, participating in fulfilling community Service and volunteer opportunities, and building professional relationships with career professionals, including Alderman and business professionals from across the city. I want to see my Scholars achieve whatever they set their minds to, and to be the helping hand for them along the way, just like my dad was for so many kids from my neighborhood.”

Inspired by Michael’s story? Head here to learn more about applying to be a mentor! The mentor application is open to support our new incoming class of Chicago Scholars – head here to check out the application and apply before the deadline on May 3rd!

Q&A with Mosea Esaias (CS ’17, Swarthmore ’17), MBA student at Chicago Booth School of Business

Mosea Esaias (Chicago Scholars Class of 2017, Swarthmore College ’17) is an MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Booth School of Business is Chicago Scholars’ first graduate school partner.

What do you plan to do after you finish your degree?

My professional background is in political consulting for startups. However, my first-ever professional job was as an intern at a one-room analytics software startup in Chicago the summer after I graduated from high school. I watched with excitement as the company expanded significantly in the ensuing years. Chicago Scholars connected me with this opportunity, and it was my first exposure to the possibilities within venture-backed entrepreneurship.

Upon completing my MBA at Booth, I plan to transition into an investment role within the venture capital sector, leveraging my extensive background with startups. My ultimate goal is to invest at the intersections of societies and markets. I believe in companies with a clear value proposition for shareholders stemming from an expansive view of the social environments in which they operate. I aspire to use the analytical frameworks and leadership skills acquired at Booth to identify and nurture these businesses, building important products and services while driving the economic development of Chicago.

What’s it like to attend Booth School of Business as a Chicago Scholars Alum?

I am from a predominantly Black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The University of Chicago is a special place to me, and in many ways I grew up in the backyard of this institution. I share a lot in common with the values of the University, and attending Chicago for graduate school has always felt like a natural next step for my personal and professional development.

Attending Booth as a CS alum is deeply rewarding and fulfilling. It’s a testament to how far I’ve come—from a young person in the heart of the South Side seeking personal development and self-discovery, to now pursuing my MBA at a globally renowned institution. Booth’s commitment to academic freedom and its emphasis on meaningful impact resonate with my own principles and experiences with CS. It’s an empowering experience, and one that constantly fills me with gratitude.

 Do you think your experience as a Chicago Scholar helped prepare you for Booth?

Absolutely-–Chicago Scholars was instrumental in preparing me for Booth. Chicago Scholars focuses on fostering economic mobility, leadership skills, and a sense of belonging. Their goal is to create a dynamic Chicago led by diverse leaders from across the city. The organization provided me with resources, training, and opportunities to successfully apply to college, graduate, and embark on my professional career. My involvement with Chicago Scholars reinforced the importance of resilience, strategic thinking, and the value of community—competencies which were indispensable along my journey to business school and beyond.

How do you think the partnership between Chicago Scholars and Booth School of Business will help future Scholars?

Chicago brims with talent and potential. However, many of the city’s youth lack the resources and opportunities needed for higher education and to realize their capabilities. Chicago Scholars is making significant strides to address this challenge. A partnership between CS and Booth has the potential to create a powerful pipeline for Chicago’s young talent to access world-class business education and opportunities. Scholars would benefit from Booth’s rigorous academic environment and its commitment to fostering leadership skills. At the same time, Chicago Booth would benefit from the wealth of insights rooted in the intellectual diversity stemming from its surrounding communities. The symbiotic relationship between Chicago Scholars and Booth can amplify the impact on economic mobility and leadership development, cultivating a new generation of diverse leaders for Chicago and beyond.

What’s your advice to Scholars who are thinking about grad school?

While college enrollments have declined in recent years, particularly among young men of color, higher education remains a critical gateway for opportunity in the United States. My advice is to pursue your passions with perseverance and an open mind. Grad school, especially a prestigious institution like Booth, is not just about academic rigor; it’s also about personal development in preparation for the long-term peregrination through life. Utilize your experiences and the networks you’ve built, like those from CS, to guide your journey. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and never underestimate the value of mentorship and building relationships. With hard work, discipline, and determination, students of all backgrounds can overcome barriers and attain excellence.

What would you say to your Booth colleagues about getting involved with Chicago Scholars?

I would encourage my Booth classmates to get involved with CS and contribute to shaping future leaders from across Chicago. Involvement with CS is an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of young people who are just starting their professional journeys. Whether through mentorship, sharing expertise, or supporting the Scholars’ college application and career transition processes, support for Chicago Scholars perfectly exemplifies Booth’s “pay it forward” mentality. Engaging with CS not only enriches the lives of Scholars but also provides invaluable learning and personal growth opportunities for Booth students. Together, we can help create a vibrant Chicago powered by diverse leaders from every neighborhood.


Scholar Opinion: Keep Your Options Open

This piece is part of a series focused on the ongoing debate about the relevance of humanities majors in today’s job market. See recent opinion pieces about this topic here and here.

One of the scariest parts about the college process/entering college is the major selection process. I didn’t know what my major was going to be until I left high school. There were a lot of reasons, like hearing about the difficulty of a certain major, the fun of a major, people’s experience within a major, or even how your high school courses prepared you for a major. I could have taken AP and IB courses in high school, but I saved myself the stress and stuck with Honors classes. Looking back at it now, I wish I had taken a couple of AP and/or IB courses because although they are stressful, they can prepare you for college extremely well. When I made friends in college, I always asked them what courses they took in high school and they all said that they took AP courses and classes that aligned perfectly with their major. I feel like not taking AP and IB courses kept me from knowing what I wanted to study in college. I had ideas about careers in healthcare, science, or tech, but I just could not put a finger on what I actually wanted to study for four years.

While choosing my major at Georgetown University, there wasn’t a wide range of major selections. Most were in the Humanities, which is something I never wanted to invest myself in. Humanities has a bad look in my eyes because of how my high school teachers taught the subjects. I had five Humanities-based Honors courses: English Survey; African American Literature; World Literature; British Literature; and Politics. Out of these courses, only English Survey allowed me to see just how complex the topic was. The others felt like I was just in a class for 50 minutes; I didn’t feel like I was genuinely learning anything, even if I tried. The classes felt dull and led me to see Humanities as boring, not creative, and too straightforward.

Because of this, I avoided Humanities majors. But I talked to my British Literature teacher, and she told me something that I never really thought about before: “People usually think Humanities is a boring thing, but it’s only a boring thing if you’re not creative or your teacher isn’t creative. If you can find joy in the realm of Humanities, then Humanities might be the place where you want to study because it brings out your creativity. It’s not just reading books and underlining sentences, it’s another world of art and creativity.”

This conversation made me think back to when I took my English Survey class. I felt like I was able to learn a lot more by simply being allowed to create. This made me dive deeper into the realm of Humanities majors, even if my comfortability within other subjects made me choose a science major (Kinesiology) over a Humanities major.

If you’re in high school and thinking about a major to pursue in college, please take the proper courses for it and allow yourself to think outside of the box about what major you might want to pursue. Humanities is a great area of major selections, because of its creativity and how deep and complex some of the majors are. If you have a chance to take a high-level course in something, take the risk and try it out. You never know how it can shape your view on what you want to study in the future. If I had another chance to choose a major in my college process, it would be Humanities.

Scholar Opinion: Humanities Majors Lend New Perspectives, Not Limited Outcomes

This piece is part of a series focused on the ongoing debate about the relevance of humanities majors in today’s job market. See recent opinion pieces about this topic here and here.


The humanities consist of disciplines such as history, art, gender studies, music, philosophy, religion, and much more. It fosters critical thinking and authentic appreciation of the human experience. However, institutions have challenged the importance of humanities and cut funds for its development. The humanities are essential to understanding what it means to be human, motivating us to question assumptions about ourselves and the world around us, and encouraging broadening one’s focus to other practical implications.

In my personal experience as a double major in Neurobiology and Philosophy, the humanities have allowed me to grow my interest in self-awareness, such as considering how it can be altered in varying mental states (i.e. emotions). This developed when I was enrolled in my first philosophy class, Philosophy 101. A couple of our discussions revolved around social differences and inequity where minority groups had the space to share our experiences of prejudice. I shared my story as a Latino who grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago and my feelings of being isolated in a predominantly white population at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In spite of this feeling of exclusion, I carry a chain in my bookbag given to me by my grandmother, which allows me to feel a sense of comfort and belonging. This reflection, along with insights from my classmates in Philosophy 101, has driven me to consider how emotions can affect our self-awareness and actions. Hence, I majored in philosophy to further explore my interests from a cultural standpoint instead of limiting myself to STEM.

The humanities disciplines can teach skills that have increased in demand in our evolving workplace. For example, philosophy has encouraged me to engage in public speaking and learn how to communicate effectively. Since joining the McNair Scholars program, I’ve been able to develop my research skills at the Center of Sleep and Consciousness lab. Under the mentorship of Dr. Cirelli, I am contributing to the testing of the SHY hypothesis. We study synaptic plasticity and the changes that occur between sleep and wake. In the lab, I learned how to reconstruct neural cells from 2D images obtained from mice subjects using electron microscopy. Despite facing challenges with effective communication as an introvert, my philosophy courses have offered various opportunities to practice my public speaking and hone my argumentation skills.  This has given me the courage to present my contributions at the University of New Mexico McNair Scholars Conference.

As a third-year student interested in graduate school, philosophy has allowed me to explore the relevance of neurobiological research from an interdisciplinary perspective. For example, my interests in neurobiology are based on consciousness and how altered states of awareness can influence one’s actions. My engagement with the humanities plays a crucial role in expanding the scope of my research interests to other real-world scenarios. Philosophy, with its emphasis on ethics, has provided me with insights on the challenges faced by neurodegenerative disease patients within prisons. This interdisciplinary perspective not only prompts me to question the molecular and structural aspects of neurodegenerative diseases but also the ethical implications within the treatment and care of these patients. I am interested in how we can improve correctional facilities to accommodate neurodegenerative disease patients, and to what extent we can decide if a patient is conscious enough to coexist in our social environment.

The humanities have provided me with a newfound perspective on the importance of learning about human experience and action. Furthermore, it allows me to expand the scope of my research interests to other real-world implications. I would advise other students to engage in the humanities, and institutions to encourage its development.


Learn more about how Chicago Scholars supports students in their college years.

Meet Our Mentor of the Month!

John Garcia, Chicago Scholars Alumni, Former Emerge Intern, Mentor since 2023

John Garcia headshot, Chicago Scholars mentor of the month

Starting this month, in celebration of our new Mentor application opening, we’ll be highlighting some of our current incredible mentors with a new mentor of the month series. Be sure to come back every month to hear their stories, why they decided to become a mentor, and maybe even some special stories of connections with their scholar cohorts that you can only read here.

Our January Mentor of the Month is John Garcia – as a Chicago Scholar alumni himself from the class of 2021, John has been a part of the Chicago Scholars community for years. His transition to mentor in 2023 was the next step in his drive to continue to give back to his community.

“Chicago Scholars has been a huge part of my life since being a scholar myself and I would not be where I am today without the organization. I’ve been a scholar, a peer mentor in college, an emerge scholar, and now a mentor for an amazing cohort of students. I’m driven by the desire to help students who are in the seat I once was, and to give back to the Chicago community that has give so much to me over the years,” said John.

Though John has been part of the Chicago Scholars community since he started as a Scholar in 2018, his journey as a mentor is only beginning – and he has so much more that he’s looking forward to as he helps to guide other Scholars on their path forward.

“I have appreciated the opportunity to grow, teach and learn from our younger Chicago Scholars and I know the impact the organization is able to have on students lives. Being a first generation, low income student, I know the struggles scholars can go through in terms of finances and finding community in campus. If my advice and words can reach even one student, that is a huge success. My advice for anyone, including if I could give it to my former self, would be to always be yourself, keep an open mind, and learn to love and care for the people around you. I would like to show my gratitude to all of Chicago Scholars for their dedication to me and all of the scholars. Thank you and I look forward to continuing my involvement with the community.”

Inspired by John’s story? Head here to learn more about applying to be a mentor! The mentor application is now open to support our new incoming class of Chicago Scholars – head here to check out the application and apply before the deadline on May 3rd!

From a Scholar: Education at CPS hasn’t kept up with the times

The Industrial Revolution introduced automobiles, which over the years created a new international market. Its initial growth was minimal but became exponential after its many practical uses.

Education has also become a booming business, but it did not follow the same growth pattern. We still follow outdated rules, expectations and methods for teaching that bring little benefit to the society as a whole. In today’s America, we see a spectrum of education not even close to the exponential development of the industrial world. At Chicago Public Schools, students are jammed in place, lacking opportunities to become future presidents, Nobel Peace Prize recipients, doctors and more. As a former CPS student, I fell short of the motivation, promises and aspiration of .

One teacher said, “If you continue to work like this you will be somebody,” but my progress was soon undercut by underfunding and social stigma. With high grades and a near perfect curriculum in middle school, the people who wanted the best for me discouraged me from reaching higher because they feared my lack of monetary and social support would keep me from being the . The schools around me were not designed to support students with exceptional grades and lofty goals… To find a school that did, you’d have to go miles away. So, my counselor chose a school for me which was not the best . In the end I was the only one sent to Westinghouse College Prep, instead of aiming higher to Lane tech or Jones because of his fears of distance and assumptions about my social background. It became clear that the support was in spirit but could not come to life. Factors which we couldn’t control made decision for us.

In high school I looked around and compared my experience with students at other schools. I saw differences mostly attributed by two factors: neighborhood, and the phrase “Selective .” Why do we support a system in which each person receives less or more based on a single test, which does not correctly analyze all their weaknesses and strengths These tests do not challenge creativity, innovation, discipline and so on, Therefore, fall under the radar. They only test math and readings skills across every CPS level. I believe that every CPS school is not at the same level because they are not all funded the same and are build on equality not equity.

In our system, this is the “fairest” way to assess someone that has little compared to someone that a lot. Students in low-income households have greater family responsibilities, higher financial duties and are not offered the same support. Some may claim they have the same resources as other kids, but they are forgetting they lack more than just resources. They lack guidance, vision and opportunities to stay away from already negative neighborhoods. Low-income neighborhoods like Little Village, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, and others have seen the effect of favoritism and bias in education. Underfunding has led students to break down against external factors that motivate them to stop their pursuit in education and follow a less healthy way of life. We already know that social media, culture, environment, family, and other factors affect the performance of the students. The purpose of education is not to create consumers, rat race or workaholics but It should steer individuals away from an unhealthy lifestyle, open new frontiers, and enable bigger innovation. They should bring inspiration, hope and reward for society. Create a brighter future and bring solutions for future generations.  Selective enrollment claims to give “smarter” students the opportunities they deserve, but they make it seem as though the smart students only live on the North Side or city center.  Even if a South or West Sider makes the cut, those schools are far from most low-income students. The worst part is, Chicago gives these schools t more resources than other schools, which puts students even further behind in the whole college process. The unfairness in selection at the end of eighth grade results in unfair college admissions decisions, because students who don’t attend a selective enrollment school are seen as doing lesser work. In reality, they covered the same material as selective enrollment schools – they just had fewer resources while they did the work.

A former student has said “CPS has a 60% college enrollment rate, which is lower than the state average of 64%. Things must change if we want those numbers to climb” (Xavier Morales-Greene, Humboldt Park). In analyzing data, Illinois is reaching a higher level of education than its largest city. How is it possible that the largest city in Illinois has a lower college graduation rate than the whole state? Is Chicago responsible for bringing down the average score? To answer these very difficult questions we can keep looking for data; we already looked at race, neighborhoods, culture, imaginary boundaries, and more. But CPS students and alumni are not just a number. They are individual people that are living lives, going against the grain of underfunding. The only solution is to fund low-income schools and make the education system truly fair.




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

Show up for Scholars like Rafael by making a gift to Chicago Scholars today! Click HERE to donate.

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.  


Dream Big: The Risk of College Undermatch

In October 2022, Megan Thee Stallion hosted Saturday Night Live the week before Chicago Scholars’ annual Onsite College and Leadership Forum. In a brilliant sketch, SNL spoofed inspirational urban educational dramas and the racism underlying many adults’ approaches to under-resourced students. In the sketch, Ego Nwodim portrays a substitute teacher determined to uplift her new students, saying: “You are not dumb…Maybe everyone in your life thinks it’s high school, then the streets, then prison. But not me…Now don’t be embarrassed, how many of you can read?” Puzzled student Megan Thee Stallion jumps in, explaining, “Miss, this is an honor’s level physics class…this is a STEM school. We all had to take a college-level test to get in here.”  

While we can laugh when stereotypes are lampooned on late night television, in the real world, these biases have consequences for high achieving students. Nationally, first generation college students are significantly under-represented at selective colleges. They are also less likely to graduate than their non-first-generation peers. At Chicago Scholars, we recruit academically ambitious first-generation and low-income students to be the first in their families to complete college and become Chicago’s next generation of leaders. Scholars are highly capable students, with an average high school GPA of 3.6 and many taking rigorous high school courses, including AP classes, IB curriculum, and credit-bearing college courses. More than 90% of Scholars are students of color. 

Through our annual Onsite College and Leadership Forum, Chicago Scholars’ students (whom we call Scholars) are some of the first students in the country to apply and be admitted to the nation’s top universities. Academic match, or – meaning the student’s academic qualifications as compared to a school’s rigor and selectivity,is a key pillar of our college counseling curriculum. Given our Scholars’ high academic potential, we strongly discourage “under matching,, meaning attending a college whose academic rigor and admissions standards are significantly below the student’s qualifications. To evaluate Scholars’ college lists, we use an adapted match rating system that was initially developed by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the To and Through Project. The rating takes into consideration the real admissions rates of CPS students at each institution compared to the students’ high school GPA and standardized test scores. 

Those who don’t work in college access spaces might be tempted to ask, “What is the harm in undermatching? Shouldn’t we encourage students to apply where they are guaranteed to get in?” Data on our Scholars’ success demonstrates exactly the harm of undermatching: The more selective the college a Scholar attends, the more likely they are to graduate. 

The following table shows the graduation rate of Chicago Scholars by the competitiveness rating of the college: 

Table 1:  

College Competitiveness Rating  Graduation Rate of Matriculating Scholars 
CS Most Competitive  85% 
Most Competitive  87% 
Highly Competitive  76% 
Very Competitive  64% 
Competitive  58% 
Less Competitive  61% 


Nearly all Scholars are a match for “highly competitive” or “most competitive” institutions. While some students may be drawn to less competitive institutions for personal or financial reasons, they are much less likely to be successful there. An analysis by Brookings found this same pattern for first- generation students nationwide. While first-generation students at all types of institutions had lower graduation rates than their non-first gen peers, the graduation gap between the two groups grows wider as schools grow less selective.  

Undermatching also increases the risk that a student will transfer or stop out entirely, making it much less likely they will graduate on time: 83% of Scholars who remain at one institution graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within 6 years, compared to just 39% of those who transfer. 

Table 2: 

Competitiveness Rating  Scholar Transfer Rate 
CS Most Competitive  2% 
Most Competitive  7% 
Highly Competitive  10% 
Very Competitive  19% 
Competitive  23% 
Less Competitive  22% 
Noncompetitive (2-year)  50% 


Our data show that few Scholars transfer out of academic match or reach institutions. Yet the risk of a transfer increases the less rigorous the institution. Scholars are least successful at open enrollment institutions, particularly 2-year colleges. Most Scholars who begin at a 2-year institution do not earn a Bachelor’s or even Associate’s degree. Instead, these students – many of whom succeeded in college-level coursework throughout high school – stop out of higher education entirely. 

There are several causes underling this trend. In general, more competitive institutions have higher overall graduation rates. These institutions are also more likely to have endowments and other financial resources to support low-income students. It is also possible that students see more value in the coursework and on-campus experience of more competitive institutions.  

Our data also demonstrate that Scholars are more successful when they leave home. Overall, 81% of those who attend college out of state graduate on time, compared to 72% who remain in Illinois. That is why we encourage all Scholars to apply to at least one out of state college. An important factor behind this gap is that Scholars are unlikely to undermatch out of state. Those who leave Illinois tend to enroll at rigorous colleges, whereas those who stay in Chicago or attend a public university elsewhere in Illinois are likely to undermatch. While leaving home can be challenging, ultimately students are more successful as a result.  

Let’s not be like Nwodim’s substitute in the SNL sketch, whose classist biases limited the potential she saw in each student. That sketch closes with the increasingly vocal students pressing Nwodim’s character on her racist assumptions until finally she pulls the fire alarm to flee the classroom (unlikely for the real-life Nwodim, who holds a STEM degree from University of Southern California). As our Class of 2028 prepares for Onsite this year, we want them to dream big and showcase their talents to the world. Of the more than 600 high school seniors that will interview with colleges at Navy Pier on October 24th, some are sure to be future political leaders, college faculty, c-suite executives, and entrepreneurs. College may be just one step on their leadership journey, but the choices students make this year can vault them to success later in life. Scholars have already demonstrated intelligence, grit, and leadership. Rather than limiting their college options, it is up to us to nurture their dreams. 



  • Academic Performance and Adjustment of First-Generation Students to Higher Education: A Systematic Review by Maria Jose Lopez, Maria Veronica Santelices, and Carmen Maura Taveras,%3B%20Engle%20%26%20Tinto%2C%202008%3B,%3B%20Engle%20%26%20Tinto%2C%202008%3B 


Intern highlight: Andrea Esperon

Hello! My name is Andrea Regina Esperon, and I am a rising Junior at Boston University majoring in Public Relations (Class of 2025).

I started my journey at Chicago Scholars as a Scholar. Within my first couple weeks in the program, I learned one important lesson that has stayed with me ever since. My Year 1 Mentors taught me to always seize an opportunity thrown at you, even if it means taking risks. Their lesson that ‘life is too short’ really stood out to me and I’ve adopted this mentality in everything I do. During my senior year of high school, I was a part of the Chicago Scholars Ambassadors program, and formed part of the social media and marketing committee. As a member, I learned how to use media and technology to promote the Chicago Scholars program to the Chicagoland community.

When researching internships, I was looking for something that embodied the same level of collaboration and intensity as the Ambassador program. That is when I found the Chicago Scholars Mentorship and Coaching Internship. Being an Intern, this past summer has taught me how to navigate a professional work environment, the importance of team building, and the power of the Chicago Scholars Core Values. I’ve learned how to use my creativity to benefit and build relationships between the Scholars, Mentors, and Staff.

Chicago Scholars has been a huge part of my life. To name a few, the Mentors and program has provided me with much needed support in the college application process and transition to college. I am beyond grateful for all my experiences and cannot wait for what the future of Chicago Scholars holds.

Loss and Gain of Purpose

Congratulations to the class of 2023. For those like me, completing undergrad marks the ending of a 20-year academic odyssey. On one hand, I am elated at the achievement. On the other hand, I mourn the end of my academic career.

Graduating from college feels different than completing other grades. From middle school to high school there was always a clear objective: Make it to the next grade. College also has a clear objective: Graduate and get a diploma. For most of my life, there has always been a clear purpose. Everything was already laid out for me. The path to take was already paved.

If you are anything like me, school has been the single most important task of your life.  I have always been good at academics, and I am not sure if I am good at anything else. The opportunity to explore the different things life has to offer was never presented to me in short, school has been my life, and now that it is over, I feel like I have lost my purpose.

As a first-generation student, graduating college is seen as the pinnacle of achievement. I have always relied on the encouragement from my family, friends, and community to achieve what none of them had before. Now that I have graduated, I am going further than anyone in my family.  As I reflect on these things a realization hits me: graduating undergrad represents the completion of a 20-year phase in my life. A phase in which I relied on authority to guide my action. Now I must take accountability for my own life, and the weight of that responsibility scares me.

I believe it is important to embrace fear and change. Achieving a lifelong dream is an accomplishment. It is also valid to mourn the ambition, drive, and direction it gave you. Purpose does not have to stay the same. Sometimes things feel pointless, like just floating in the middle of nowhere. In moments like this it is important to give yourself grace and compassion. Start small, perhaps your purpose today is to apply for three jobs daily, make breakfast, take a walk, spend time with loved ones. They may not seem as grand as graduating college, but it is important to take time and celebrate your victory before going to the next step. Even if it feels like you are just going through the motions, each action you take will bring you to the next phase in life. For now, my purpose is to express the highs and lows of post-grad life.

Purpose is more than a task to complete. Graduating college is more than getting a diploma. Focus, drive, dedication, and discipline are all important skills that were practiced there. Make a list of the skills you have gained. The lessons you have learned and the revelations you have made about yourself and the world. Amidst these things is the recipe for your new purpose.



NSO Through Ms. Aubrey’s Eyes

I’ve always loved The First Day of School. Everything about it excites me in the most awesomely beautiful way. As a young student, I loved going to Walmart with my mom and sister to pick out brand new school supplies. In the days leading up, I would spend hours organizing my pencil box and backpack, eager to put them to use. I would even try on several outfits to make sure I had the perfect back-to-school outfit. And I looked forward to seeing my friends, meeting new people, and learning new things.  

 When I became a teacher, the first day of school continued to have significant meaning. It was up to me to set the tone for the entire year. During the summer, I would think non-stop about how I wanted to not just create a welcoming classroom, but instill a passion for learning, a love of reading, and a sense of belonging. I still thoughtfully prepared my first day outfit, but instead of buying school supplies for myself, I now shopped for 10 cent spiral notebooks in bulk, collected pens/pencils from anywhere and everywhere, and searched used bookstores for popular young adult lit that I could add to my classroom. When I became principal, I would spend months preparing for the first day. Now, at Chicago Scholars, my first day of school is New Scholar Orientation. And what a first day it was! 

 As my colleague Kim and I walked 550 Scholars of the Class of 2028 and their families over to the auditorium on Loyola University’s campus, I could feel the air buzzing with anticipation. The nervous, yet eager faces, each representing a unique story and journey, began to fill the room. The energy was electric, as if the very atmosphere swelled with the promise of transformative possibilities. I couldn’t help but be swept away by the infectious spirit.  

 One of the things that struck me most was the unspoken sense of unity and shared purpose. Scholars from various backgrounds, neighborhoods, and experiences all gathered together, united by a common goal: to break barriers and create a better future for themselves and their communities. The room itself radiated with the belief that these Scholars were destined for greatness. 

 I had the privilege of connecting with a Scholar named Janeth who is an optimistic, self-taught artist with a passion for literature who dreams of becoming the first person in her family to graduate college. I met Scholar Gabriel, an emergent filmmaker, who I discovered has a talent for storytelling who will one day be a Hollywood director and producer. (Honestly, I saw his movies on Youtube and this Scholar will be a household name in the future.). I talked with Scholar Ahmed, a brilliant student with a heart of gold, who immigrated from Morocco and is already engaged in scientific research towards gene therapy with the hopes of identifying genes that could be edited to cure diseases.  I spoke with Scholar Aniyah, a hardworking student with a part-time job with the White Sox who maintains a high GPA at her school on the south side of the city. When Aniyah described her love of gaming and how she wants to design her own video games in college, I believed she could and that she will. 

 Among the many memorable moments, one stood out as a testament to the incredible strength of empowerment and the sense of belonging. A panel of successful Chicago Scholars alumni took the stage, sharing their personal triumphs, struggles, and the impact they have made since their own days as Scholars. The stories they shared were not just tales of individual success; they were testaments to the transformative power of education and the ripple effect it has on communities. CS Staff member and alumnus Ja’Qwan Hoskins wowed everyone when he shared that he graduated debt free with no student loans. Another CS Staff member and alumna Stephanie Rosado shared a beautiful tribute to her parents and her culture. It was a reminder that every Scholar in that room had the potential to create a lasting impact within their family, neighborhood, and city. 

 Amid all the activities, workshops, and get-to-know-you conversations, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for organizations like Chicago Scholars that invest in the limitless potential of these young minds. Gratitude for the unwavering dedication of parents, mentors, counselors, and educators who provide guidance and support. But most importantly, gratitude for the Scholars themselves, who dare to dream big and believe that they have the power to shape a brighter future. 

 After we packed my car, marking the end of the day, I started the commute home with my colleagues Kevin and Miguel. Exhausted after a long day, but filled with indescribable joy, we reflected with one another on the ride home. We shared moments of inspiration with one another and our hopes for the Class of 2028 Scholars. In that moment, I knew that my role as Associate Director of College Counseling and Family Engagement was so much more than just simply helping a student get into college. It was about nurturing dreams, building resilience, and creating a community of change-makers. 

Chicago Scholars, mark my words: these students, these bright minds, are going to change the entire city of Chicago. They will be the ones who create innovative solutions, lead with compassion, and shatter barriers that have held society back for far too long. And I can’t wait to see it happen. They will manifest change and I am here for it.  


Affirmative Action decision sets America back decades

The Supreme Court’s decision to effectively end affirmative action will undoubtedly make it more difficult for diversity to shine through at well-renowned universities: They voted 6-3 in the University of North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case.

This ruling sets America back from decades worth of progress in diversifying college campuses: According to the Department of Education, 37 percent of Black people in the 18-to-24 age range were enrolled in college, and Hispanics made up 33 percent of college students in that age range. In California, where the state affirmative action ban has been in place since 1998, Hispanic students at UCLA and California made up just 21.5 percent of the 2020 freshman class, 29 percentage points below the college-eligible Hispanic population.

In the ruling, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “a benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not based on race.”

This decision is meant to put parameters around how students discuss any disadvantages they’ve faced in their college applications. But for students of color, it’s almost impossible to discuss the disadvantages one has faced without tying it back to race.

Through housing discrimination, lack of generational wealth, and navigating a world in which the minority body isn’t as valued as white counterparts, the minority experience is embedded in a person from birth.

Race is a significant part of a person’s identity. Affirmative action allowed minority students to receive more of a fair shot of being admitted into college. It allowed colleges to be intentional on diversifying its campuses. It ensures that underrepresented students are given an opportunity. Focusing solely on one’s test scores and GPA ignores the context of the individual.

Even more alarming, standardized tests inherently disadvantage Black and brown individuals because they lack access to test prep, attend lower-performing schools, and often aren’t given the opportunity to take advanced coursework to better prepare them for the exams.

Take me, for example. I was a solid student at Westinghouse College Prep. It’s a reputable school, but I wasn’t at the top of my class and suffered from test anxiety, so my SAT scores didn’t reflect my ability.

I transferred to Westinghouse during my sophomore year to have access to the advanced placement courses and extracurriculars that universities look for — not every student is afforded the luxury of being able to transfer. In doing so, I struggled to keep up during my sophomore year — which was an anchor to my GPA.  I didn’t shy away from my identity and experiences throughout the college application process. My Chicago Scholars counselor, Monique Moore, encouraged me to talk about my sophomore year, which saw my grades fall from 3.8 my freshman year to much lower, and to not run from that year.

I probably wouldn’t have been admitted to Knox College if it wasn’t for the school looking at every part of my identity, not just my GPA and test scores. Changing the paradigm would have significantly hurt my chances. I didn’t hide the fact that I would be a first-generation college student coming from a single-parent family.

“The admissions rubrics they have constructed now recognize that an individual’s ‘merit’ — his ability to succeed in an institute of higher learning and ultimately contribute something to our society — cannot be fully determined without understanding that individual in full,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said after the ruling.

The ban prevented diversity from occurring at private institutions, which hurts the college process for every student involved.We learn from those who come from different backgrounds. Being exposed to different people from different cultures is paramount to your growth as a student and person.

Knox was a very diverse school: The opportunities to learn about my friends and classmates culture’s was eye-opening. I have never traveled outside of the United States, so hearing about one’s culture and attending dance performances during the college’s International Week was beneficial and enriching to my educational experience.

That experience wouldn’t have been possible without race being part of the calculus in the decision process. The ruling won’t end Affirmative Action, but it will make diversity at colleges and universities tougher to achieve.

Emerging Futures

Chicago Scholars’ dedication to uplifting and aiding first-generation and people of color (POC) Scholars in Chicago is most visible through their pre-college initiatives. As a Scholar, I can say that the college application and decision process can be quite strenuous, but I was fortunate to have my CS mentors and staff with me every step of the way, even after I matriculated at Denison University.

During the academic year, it is easy to get lost in the hustle of studying and extracurricular activities and forget about applying for internships or summer pre-professional programs. Internships during undergrad are essential, as they can help determine what career paths are open to you after college. As a first year student, it was even harder for me to look into internships because I had switched my major. With a plethora of internships and programs out there, it can be hard to narrow down your options and determine what makes the most sense for you. An example of this is deciding between paid or unpaid internships, relocation, or notable vs. lesser-known internships. 

It’s important to think about internships early in your academic career. The CS team introduced me to Emerge, a unique paid internship that builds on pre-existing soft and hard skills, to simulate the possible challenges they may face in the workplace, through unique activities like Growth Labs at partner companies, resume and interview workshops, and 1:1 coaching. Emerge gives students the opportunity to network with leaders in a variety of industries. As a Scholar, I felt drawn to Emerge’s promise of skill building in a professional environment. I have learned transferable skills in the marketing field that I intend to apply throughout my college experience and eventually in my legal practice. 

Jermal Ray, a rising sophomore studying architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, joined Emerge to seek opportunities for personal and community growth. Being part of a driven community of young people and supportive mentors is a highlight for him. “Emerge unleashed the passion to set new frontiers, opening doors to awareness, expertise and a strong entrepreneurial spirit through myself.”  Jermal states. This summer, Jermal is interning with The Walsh Group, a leading company in the construction sector. Jermal plans to use his experiences from this summer to add onto his professional and personal goals of growth and aspirations of being a CEO in the future. 

Lily Gonzalez is a rising sophomore at Oberlin College, majoring in mathematical economics with a minor in statistical modeling and a concentration in business. Lily said she joined Emerge because “as a first-generation student, exposure to different internships and opportunities come rarely and I felt that the Emerge program would be a great way to help bridge that gap.” Lily is currently interning at Harrison Street Real Estate Capital LLC., an alternative real estate firm headquartered in Chicago. Throughout the program, Lily gained technical skills, added to her resume, found a mentor, and built relationships across a variety of industries and sectors while building meaningful friendships and corporate partnerships. Lily recently pitched a capstone to a panel of judges, where her group (IOR Solutions) was chosen to present at the Emerge closing ceremony! 

Emerge is part of the CS mission to guarantee that all Scholars will have an internship before they graduate from college. Programs such as Emerge contribute to personal and economic growth in minority communities, through internships which are essential for increasing your options in the job search after college. Studies have shown that students are 15% less likely to face unemployment post-grad when taking part in an internship during undergrad. By providing access to internships, Emerge helps close the opportunity gap and create a more equitable future.  

Zandie Lawson is a 2023 Emerge Scholar and a member of the Chicago Scholars Class of  2026. She is currently a student at Denison University. 

Meet the Intern: Jailene Sanchez

Hello! My name is Jailene Sanchez, and I am a 19-year-old rising sophomore at DePaul University majoring in Cybersecurity and minoring in Computer Science. This summer, I’m working at Chicago Scholars as a Data Solutions Intern. 

While searching for an internship, I had the pleasure of speaking with Deshauna, who introduced me to the Emerge Program. I prepared a lot for the interview process, and when I got accepted, I was happy! When I shared the news with my family, we all screamed and jumped around in excitement, as it is an opportunity to learn, grow, and network with people who share similar values. As soon as I stepped into the Chicago Scholars office, it felt like I had found a second home. Whenever I spoke to someone, they warmly welcomed me with open arms, and their unique qualities were simply incomparable. 

I always viewed myself as someone willing to learn anything. I am naturally curious and never hesitate to ask questions as I work towards achieving my goals. I am most excited about a project I might work on with Daniel Rossi, because it would relate to my major. I am eager to hopefully work on this project and see what I can learn from it!

Reflecting on the relationships I’ve built with my co-workers at Chicago Scholars fills me with immense pride and gratitude, as they have become a part of my life and journey through college. I cherish every second of our time together, whether it involves exchanging experiences, engaging in meaningful discussions, or simply enjoying each other’s presence. I want to take a moment to give a special shout-out to everyone at Chicago Scholars. I am truly grateful for your kindness, support, and unwavering commitment to helping me achieve my goals. Thank you for being a consistent source of inspiration in my life.

Meet the Intern: Zandie Lawson

The Chicago Scholars Team is excited to introduce you to our 2023 Emerge Summer Interns! First up is Zandie Lawson, Chicago Scholars Class of 2026.

Hi! My name is Zandie Lawson, and I am from Rogers Park, Chicago. I currently attend Denison University where I am a rising sophomore, double majoring in Politics and Public Affairs and Environmental Studies on the Pre-Law track with a minor in Dance.

I became a Chicago Scholars Intern through the Emerge program. I have always had immersive experiences Scholar, and I wanted to prioritize career readiness this summer. The Emerge program matched my goals. So far, my experience has been great. I’ve learned a lot of professional skills such as networking, public speaking, and team building . The program is catered amazingly to our professional and individual needs, and I am so excited to continue this summer. As a Marketing and Communications Intern, I would like to focus on building my network and learning how to better market myself and the many organizations I represent. In the future, I would like to practice Environmental Law, specifically in the intersection between business and sustainability. I hope to be an advocate for people of color (POC) in low-income communities that are most affected by climate change .

In my free time I like to thrift, read, dance, and explore Chicago with my friends. I look forward to this summer and enhancing my skillset at Chicago Scholars.

Opportunity All Year Round

One of the most helpful features of being a Chicago Scholar is that the support and guidance doesn’t end when the school year does. Oh no, CS doesn’t close its doors and stop sending out emails when summer vacation hits. The CS staff are always at work — in fact, the staff work becomes twice as hard during the summer.

Not every scholar has a set plan going into their summer, but that doesn’t mean they plan on devoting their time to relaxing on the couch from the end of May to September. That was the case for me. At the tail end of my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to get a job or internship so I could have some money going into college and pay for my books. The only problem was that I had so much focus on my college decision and other conflicts I had at home, I put my summer plans on the back burner.

Year 1 Scholars meet every month, and in February, the host gave us the normal dose of events and opportunities that CS Alumni are involved in. They included an opportunity to be a summer intern for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). I have been familiar with the CTA for all of my life; I’ve ridden the buses and trains for years, and some of my family members are bus and train operators. I jumped on the opportunity and sent in my resume. A month and a half later, I accepted their job offer and got ready to do my onboarding as an official CTA summer intern.

As a summer intern, my job was to work through virtual and in-person sessions at Olive Harvey College. I participated in professional development workshops both on campus and Zoom and completed self-guided work assigned by Accenture Chicago. It was great collaborating with cohort members from other high schools around Chicagoland to produce a capstone project about mental and physical wellness within the CTA.

My main takeaway from this experience was how much I learned about the CTA as a whole. I was aware of the different bus and train lines, but not how far they go. I really enjoyed learning more about the different neighborhoods and communities that have made the train lines part of their urban culture. For example, White Sox-35th is the Red Line stop where people get off to go see the White Sox play at Guaranteed Rate Field. On a line that I’d ridden countless times, I had no idea how central it was to the neighborhood.

CS helps Scholars plan out their summer plans, whether that be a job or another means of college preparation. Before I wrote this article, I received a call from a representative in the Leadership Development Team about an internship opportunity. Although I have an internship already setup for myself, the connection still remains on the table if my plans change. CS keeps the door of opportunity open all year round.

If I said It Was Easy, I’d Be Lying

Never in my life would I have imagined the significance of May 20th, 2023. Sure, it’s the same
week as my birthday, May 14th, but it’s also the date of the biggest accomplishment of my life:
graduating from college.

It’s something that still feels surreal to me. Yeah, I knew I would get it done, but to consider the
hardships faced, the long nights put in, and the sacrifices made, it makes it even more special.
That’s why in my Instagram bio, I made sure I put “Marquette ALUM,” because that alumni
status hits a little different when you’ve been through some stuff.

If you asked me about college when I was a sophomore in high school, I would have looked at
you like you were crazy. I always knew I was a good student, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able
to handle the college lifestyle and the work that comes with it. However, joining programs like
Chicago Scholars and College Possible made me realize that college was the place for me and
gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams.

When the week of May 20th approached, it was a week full of celebration and glory, but also a
time for reflecting as well. A time to reflect on how far I’ve come, who I am now and who I was
before. A lot has happened since August of 2019 when I first arrived on campus. And it all led to
me being who I am today. While I wish the events I’ve seen during my college years didn’t
cause so much chaos, I feel like those moments helped me grow and see things in a different

And to say I was able to accomplish everything I wanted through everything I’ve experienced is
what makes graduating mean so much to me.

Being a Black, first-generation college student from Chicago isn’t easy. Going into a
predominantly white institution (PWI) like Marquette and having to adjust from the areas I was
so accustomed to growing up wasn’t easy. No matter how much preparation you get, you’re still
going to experience the tough ends of being in college. But through the trials and tribulations,
the reason I went through it all finally came to light on May 20th.

As I crossed the stage at Fiserv Forum, my friends and I couldn’t keep our emotions together,
cheering as we watched our other friends cross the stage. We even joined each other's
Instagram live despite us literally standing next to one another. Yes, we were that ecstatic.

If I said graduating college would be easy, I’d be lying. Yet, that relieving feeling of crossing the
stage, seeing my friends and family happy, and knowing all this work resulted in something,
made it all worth the while. Thank you, Marquette, for making me realize the reason why I went
through it all in the first place.

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   

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.”