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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.

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.”

The Power of Networking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nameka R. Bates, Ph.D.

Managing Director of College Access

Chicago Scholars

Mentorship, the CS Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Navigating scholarships and financial aid: Advice from a Platinum Partner

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Jennifer Shimp and Dan Bradley named 2023 Mentors of the Year

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

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

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


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

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


What is your favorite thing about mentoring Scholars? 

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


Why should someone become a Chicago Scholars mentor? 

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

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


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

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



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


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

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


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

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


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

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


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

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


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

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

We Model The Way: Molly Tompkins

What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

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

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

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

Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work? 

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

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

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


We Care for Each Other: Armando Becerril Sierra

What does it mean to you to receive this award?

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


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

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


Why should others get involved with Chicago Scholars’ work?

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


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

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


Tim Courtney, We Show Up


What does it mean to you to receive this award? 

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

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


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

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

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


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work?

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


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

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


Michelle Repp, We Keep Our Word


What does it mean to you to receive this award?

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


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

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


Why should others get involved in Chicago Scholars’ Work? 

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

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

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


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

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



From BuiltIn Chicago: Chicago Startup Reach Pathways to Pitch at SXSW

“Chicago Scholars is a nonprofit organization that works to support under-resourced students through college and into their careers. While there are 4,000 students who are eligible to complete the Chicago Scholars’ program every year, the nonprofit can only currently accept 550 into every class. The organization recently launched Reach Pathways as a way to serve more students by using technology. The startup developed REACH, a virtual metaverse platform that digitizes Chicago Scholars’ curriculum,” writes Ashley Bowden of BuiltIn Chicago.

Read more of BuiltIn’s coverage of REACH here — and see REACH in BuiltIn’s newsletter after its SXSW win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Up Time

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

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

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

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

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



Chicago Scholars announces REACH, a first-of-its-kind platform to close the gap between talent and opportunity

For over two decades, Chicago Scholars has empowered nearly 6,000 high-performing, under-resourced students to overcome systemic barriers to success in college. In addition to its wraparound support for Chicago-based students, Chicago Scholars has created REACH, a first-of-its-kind app designed to connect top talent with professional opportunities in ways that feel less like homework and more like a video game. 

REACH connects students, employers, colleges, and community partners in the virtual world, driving awareness and closing the gap between talent and opportunity. Students will earn badges and rewards for completing real-life tasks related to college and career success, such as applying for jobs and connecting with mentors. In addition, they will have access to community, support, and insider knowledge that often needs to be added for high-performing, under-resourced students whose families and friends may not have experience with college and the careers students would like to pursue.

Chicago Scholars CEO and REACH Pathways co-CEO Jeffery Beckham, Jr. presented this innovative opportunity as a finalist in the SXSW Pitch 2023, a competition showcasing innovative new technology to a panel of industry experts, high-profile media professionals, venture capital investors, and angel investors. REACH Pathways was the only Chicago-based startup to be recognized as a finalist in the 2023 pitch competition. REACH Pathways received an award in the Future of Work category, which focuses on technologies that enable, empower, change, and expand capabilities in the future of work and the working experience. 

“We’re honored to receive SXSW’s Future of Work award for REACH,” said Beckham. “It is important that our mission bridges the gap between talent and opportunity for students to succeed. REACH Pathways will achieve this through its access to community, support, and insider knowledge – this award is a testament to that mission.” 

Chicago Scholars is the largest education nonprofit in Chicago, welcoming 500-600 of the city’s most ambitious and driven underrepresented students into its class each year. Following the seven-year program, students have a 95% college enrollment rate, graduate at twice the rate of their peers, and 50% earn more than their parents did or are in management roles just a few years after college graduation. But the remaining 88% of eligible Chicago students – not to mention the millions of high-performing, under-resourced students nationwide – also deserve support. 

“To achieve our vision of a vibrant Chicago powered by diverse leaders from every neighborhood, we need to serve those students,” said Brooke McKean, co-CEO of REACH and President of Chicago Scholars. “We’re proud of the intimate and individualized approach we provide our Scholars. Pairing that with the REACH app, we can spread our impact and take a major step forward in developing the leaders of tomorrow.”

“REACH Pathways is grounded in the belief that a student’s zip code shouldn’t determine their life outcomes. Success looks like diverse young adults accessing better careers, increasing their lifetime earnings, and creating multi-generational wealth – in Chicago and beyond,” said Beckham.

For more information on REACH and to get involved as a college or corporate partner, volunteer, or bring REACH to a specific community, visit

From Forbes: How Chicago Scholars Is Changing The Lives Of Young Men Of Color

“Due to systemic discrimination and attacks on affirmative action, over the past few years college enrollment for Black men has dropped by 14.8%, and Latino men’s enrollment decreased by 10.3% in the United States. The Chicago Scholars, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering opportunity, is working to combat these decreases in enrollment with their newly launched program, Young Men of Color. With this initiative, Chicago Scholars is committed to increasing the young men of color served by their college access programs, and enriching their lives,” writes Marybeth Gasman of Forbes.

Read the full article here.

From WBEZ’s Reset with Sasha-Ann Simons: Chicago Scholars Program offers economic, college aid to first generation students

“The Chicago Scholars Program follows students from the end of their junior year of high school through their first job after college.

Reset learns about the program and included initiatives from community leaders,” writes Michael Liptrot of Reset.


Listen to Jeffrey Beckham, David Leon and current Scholar Jair Alvarez here.