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November, 2009

Four bloggers featured in The Boston Globe

CSOlogo-85Mean streets to collegethe_boston_globe)225
By Tracy Jan/The Boston Globe

November 29, 2009 – It can be lonely at times being a first-generation college student. And as a low-income high school student applying to college, the experience can be overwhelming.

Students can now turn to a new blog launched by the Center for Student Opportunity for support, advice, and inspiration. Four of the 10 bloggers attend New England colleges:

There’s Jesse Sanchez, who said he overcame gangs and poverty in San Diego to become the first in his family to attend college – at Harvard, no less. He hopes to become the first Latino mayor of San Diego.

Khadijah Williams, a Harvard freshman, writes of being a homeless high school student who used education as her way out of Los Angeles’s Skid Row.

Duylam Nguyen-Ngo, a budding entrepreneur, credits his single mother with inspiring him to enter Babson College despite growing up in a dangerous Richmond neighborhood.

And Lysa Vola, who was adopted at age 5 along with five of her siblings in Jensen Beach, Fla., is attending Williams College and hopes to become a pediatrician.

The students give candid accounts of their college experience, including their struggles adjusting to and juggling the increased workload as well as the highlights of freshman year so far (like meeting Chicano civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, cofounder of United Farm Workers, who recently spoke at Harvard.)

“When I first got here, the workload seemed impossible, but it just takes getting used to,’’ Sanchez wrote in a recent post. “I’m feeling WAY better now that I’ve learned to balance things out and really find ways to make time for the things that really matter.’’

Sanchez said he grew up with a single mother, who sustained the family on less than $7,000 a year. “Yet I was not going to hold our economic status or her absence as an excuse for failure,’’ he wrote.

He searched for opportunities while his friends succumbed to violence and drugs.

“Seeing how these influences had the power to tear families apart, I strived for a better way of life, put academics first, and made it to college! . . . I hope to be a role model that many of the students in my community lack. I want to prove that academic success is possible, no matter what obstacles one may face.’’

The blog can be found at www.csopportunityscholars.org.

The Quad highlights doings on local campuses. For online updates, go to www.boston.com/ MetroDesk and click on The Quad. To submit tips, e-mail Tracy Jan at tjan@globe.com.

Check out the published article here.

Homesickness 101

seanna-85A niggling of homesickness and sadness washed over me as I glanced back at my friend Alejandra.  Just like most of the campus, she was heading to the airport…excited about going home for the Thanksgiving break.  And unlike most of the campus, I was walking to my Latin class for a mid-term…and afterwards, I planned to return back to an empty room.  I’d spent previous holidays away from family, but up until this year, I had at least always been surrounded by friends.  While I knew that there were many people going through far worse situations, I still wasn’t feeling very optimistic about the next four days.  School work and silent hallways did not seem like good company.

I was wrong…

Okay…actually, the school work was not fun.  And the hallways were silent to the point of creepiness, but my break was still great, all because I chose to get involved around campus with other remaining students.  For Thanksgiving, I helped cook with our campus’s SOCA organization (Student of Color Alliance); I was personally responsible for the green beans and a strawberry cheesecake.  Before that evening, I was once again apprehensive about sharing this meal with basic strangers, but the awkwardness seemed to bring us together.

The food was amazing—together, we compiled ham, turkey, chicken, green beans, greens, mac n’ cheese, potatoes, corn, lasagna, cheesecake, pumpkin pecan pie, brownies, cornbread…the list went on and on.  Some of the leaders set out tablecloths and played music.  Afterwards, we sat around the table and played games.  Some of the guys watched football, sprawled across the couches in the room.  At some point, I looked around at the group of people and realized that I should count my blessings.  Even thousands of miles away from Arkansas, I was able to find a place to call “home”—a community of students who had most likely felt the same misgivings about the holiday, but still managed to find a silver lining.  We may not have gone home, but we were together.

And so…let me end this hunky-dory post with the lesson that I learned, one that I keep learning over and over.  College is all about new experiences.  Keeping an open mind and finding ways to reach out can help lessen feelings of homesickness or loneliness.  In applying for college and choosing a four-year (or two-year) abode, don’t allow physical distance to deter you from a great community.  You find great people in unexpected places…which can always lead to memories that you never imagined having.

Giving Thanks

jesse-85Thanksgiving was spent away from home but I was still able to enjoy it in great company. There is an organization on campus called RAZA which is centered around Mexican-American culture. Every year for the past 4 years, RAZA goes to Ed’s house for Thanksgiving (Harvard ‘06). It was so much fun being able to spend it with this new family I have been able to find here at Harvard. I ate A TON!! It was delicious.

It was hard being away from family but I was able to Skype with them on Ed’s computer. They were, of course, playing the rancheras and the cumbias back home but we had that playing at Ed’s house too so I felt at home. Seeing my family over Skype was definitely a great feeling. I felt as if I was right there with them.

So, remember, even though you may be thrown into another world once you get into college and might not be able to see your family during the holidays, there are still ways to enjoy this time apart with close friends and with 21st century technology.

I am thankful for my family, mentors, and friends who I owe my life to. I wouldn’t be the same without the experiences (good and bad) that I have shared with them. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have at hand, especially ones like the CSO Opportunity Scholars Blog which give me the opportunity to show you future first-generation college students that college is possible no matter what your background is.

And I am thankful for you, the reader, who has taken the time out of his or her schedule to learn more about my college experience. Hopefully you can find it in yourself to acknowledge the strength you have to break the mold and make it to college. Keep working hard and make the best out of every situation. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thankful for the things we often take for granted…

lysa-85Being with my family these past few days has made me realize just how fortunate I am for having a house over my head for the holidays. I began to think about how many people don’t have anyone to go home to. 

I am grateful that everyone in my family is also relatively healthy and safe. I am thankful that I wake up every morning with no worries about how I’m going to eat that day, or where I’m going to lay my head down at night.

It’s so easy to forget just how many people are homeless during the holidays, and cannot even afford to feed their families. My heart truly goes out to those who are struggling during the holiday season.

My family may not be the richest, live in the nicest neighborhood, or drive the fanciest car, but we do have each other, and being home makes me realize that I have a support network of people who love me back home that many people do not have. 

Most of all, I am thankful to be where I am right now in my life, with the ability to shape my own  future. I am thankful to be in college, doing well and on my way to a successful career, because my own parents never had that chance.

The holiday has made me thankful for many things that we as a society often take for granted.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Lend a helping hand to someone, donate to an organization, or do anything to take a small part in changing someone’s holiday for the better this season!

A Chicana Hero

jesse-85College is the BEST!! I’ve had days where I felt overwhelmed and thought that I might not be able to make it to the end of the week, but that comes along with the transition. It’s something new, it’s something challenging, but it’s something you can handle.

When I first got here, the workload seemed impossible but it just takes getting used to. I’m feeling WAY better now that I’ve learned to balance things out and really find ways to make time for the things that really matter. I’m sure I’m still going to have days where I want to crawl into a corner and assume the fetal position but I’ve got everybody back home counting on me! You gotta find that special something to give you strength.

The opportunities in college are endless and the experiences you have here are going to stay with you forever. For example, I met Dolores Huerta on Friday!! She was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) along with Cesar Chavez; she is a major civil rights leader who pioneered the way for not only Chicanos, but for all oppressed people. It was truly an honor to meet her. My friend Jesus-Mario and I even got to drop her off at the airport!! It was pretty crazy.

These opportunities are out there; you just have to reach for them!!

Who are you going to meet? Who are you going to impact?

Well, that all depends on how much work you put in now, while you’re still in high school.

I’m still a little shook from the honor of meeting Dolores Huerta.

If you work hard enough now, people could say the same thing when they meet you one day.

The Unexpected

dalonn-85adrianna&dalonn_150When life throws you a curve ball, what do you do? On September 26th, 2009, I lost a very close friend, Adrianna Duffy, due to pulmonary embolism. She was only 17 years old when she left us. I met her a few years back at an A Better Chance (ABC) southern college tour. We had an instant connection. I was surprised that Adrianna already knew what she wanted to study, how long it would take her, what graduate school she wanted to attend. She had big plans and mapped her life out. I loved this about her. When I received the sad news, I was in class checking my emails. ABC had notified all the scholars of her passing away. When I read it, it didn’t register. I didn’t want to believe it. I had spoken to her a few weeks ago and even sent a text to her. I never got a text back from her; I thought she had to have been extremely busy with college. The sudden loss was a heartbreaker. I still keep her number in my phone, still in disbelief and hoping someday my phone will ring and it is her.

How to cope with losing a very close loved one? It is not easy; you will be sad, angry, and confused. I felt like I was at my lowest point. I was very low emotionally. I honestly couldn’t focus in class, in fact, I couldn’t focus in general. Luckily for me, my professors excused me from class for the day and I was able to go home and to the funeral. It was not easy bouncing back. I was behind in class and had to work twice as hard to catch up. But I did it. Things happen in life that are often unexpected. However, it is up to you to overcome those obstacles. Never give up! In some sense this was a wakeup call. Tomorrow is not a promise so make the most of today.

Don’t Judge a College by The Pamphlet

ashley-85I’m sure you have heard this before but don’t rule out a college by the price, but there are other things that I want to point out that you should or should not judge a school by.

1. Size– I know many people do base their college searches on sizes of the school; but sometimes there are other things that are more important, like the benefits schools offer their students. I have a friend who wanted to go to a State University, but instead came here because of the Nursing Program. You don’t want to go to a school if they can’t provide you with what you need, no matter how perfect everything else may seem.

2. For other people– Never consider a school because that’s where your best friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, or parents want you to go. College is about making you the person you want to be. No matter how much you want to make people happy, when it comes to your future, your happiness is all that matters.

3. College statistics and reputation– Never think that a college is too good for you. If you are looking at schools and think that it is perfect, but that you would never get in, apply anyways. Each person is unique and we all provide different things. If you are worried that you wouldn’t fit in based on stereotypes… ignore those stereotypes. Colleges don’t want students all the same.

4. The feel– This is what I want all of you looking at schools to look for. When you have found the right college for you, you will know. I know this sounds cliché, but it is true. There is a college out there for everyone, don’t settle for anything less.

Climb High, Climb Far…TAKE RISKS!

lysa-85Hey guys! Frequently here at Williams I walk past Hopkins gate. Engraved on this passageway are these encouraging words:

“Climb High, Climb Far, Your Goal the Sky; Your Aim the Star”

These simple yet meanigful words, evoke just how important it is to strive beyond the best you can be. Therefore, I urge you all to consider applying to those schools, you figure are completely out of you’re reach. What’s the worst that could happen?

During my college application process my senior year, an admissions counselor once told me, you could have all “As,” perfect SATS, and be involved in  many extracurriculars at your school, but that is not what makes you stand apart from all the rest! I further learned that every year dozens of the “virtually same type of students” apply to the nation’s top universities with these very same qualities. And you know what? In all honesty, most of them are turned away!

Believe it or not, having good grades, good test scores, and trying to be involved in everything in high school may not even get you into an IVY or top school! 

I know when I was in high school I figured grades meant everything and that no college cared about my perspectives or anything else. However, when you apply to college the truth is quite the contrary. Colleges do want to know your struggles and how you’ve over come such obstacles. It’s not about how many times you may of fallen, but rather how you’ve picked yourself back up and made something positive out of a negative situaiton.

So don’t stress about your grades so much, or being voted the leader of every club or sport. Don’t hesitate to do something out of your comfort zone; something non-academic! Be unique; be bold, because that’s what will truly set you apart when you’re application reaches the admission office!

Remember when you write your application essays, that colleges respect an individual who can face the ups and downs in their lives, and realize that you are human! Try to personalize your essays so that they not only cover the topic you must write about, but also encompass something unique about yourself, your thoughts, or who you are as individual. DON’T BE JUST A NUMBER IN THE APPLICATION PROCESS, TRULY STAND OUT!

I myself, wrote my college essay on the corruption of the foster care and adoption systems in America. I tied my essay into my own experiences in foster care as a child, and how being adopted has impacted my life. I figured I was taking a chance with this topic, because not everyone is going to agree with you, but you must write about whatever lies close to your heart, because that’s what’s going make an impact, and truly stick in the minds of admissions officers when they are making their decisions of acceptance.

So don’t hold back, when writing you’re essays.  TAKE CHANCES! THE MOST UNIQUE STORIES AND THUS ESSAYS MAKE THE BEST ONES! If you need any advice on your college essays or just want someone to look it over for you, just email me, or post a comment. I would love to help you guys!Thats what we bloggers are here for, YOU!

gobble gobble!

tereza-85It’s already 2 weeks until Thanksgiving and I know most of you high students are looking forward to it because that means a 4 day weekend! I remember thinking that last year and couldn’t wait for it to come.

What I also remember about this time was that I was getting ready to start my college application process and I hope all of you high school seniors are too. If you have not started yet, don’t worry it’s not too late to start.

There are so many colleges out there and some students are probably wondering “Which one do I want to go to? How can I pick?” What I suggest doing is making a list of everything you look for in a college and go off of that. Some sample questions would be:”Do you want to stay close to home? Do you want to be in a city or in a college town? Do you want to go to a big school or a small school? Does diversity in your college matter to you?” and more questions similar to that. By answering a bunch of questions like that can really help narrow down your search and make it easier to pick which colleges you are interested in. I myself answered questions like that to help me narrow down my search because before I did that I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by how many colleges there where and this helped me eliminate some. For questions which you could go either way on like “how big do you want your school?” just apply to both because then you can never have too many options.

I would also suggest to at least apply to 5 schools. Every school will offer you a different financial aid package and different things and like I said before, keep your options open!

Try making a time line for yourself especially when applying to schools that have application deadlines. You do not want to miss an important deadline. Some schools may have rolling admission so there really is not a deadline but it is always better to apply sooner because then it’s more likely you will get a spot!

If you have not already figured out which teacher you would like to write you letter of recommendation it would be good if you made that decision soon so then you can ask that teacher. Also so then they could get started on it if necessary because just how you don’t like doing papers at the last minute, they don’t like doing letters of recommendation at the last minute.

You should probably begin creating a personal statement if you have not already started and I highly suggest you have someone else read it and help you with it! They can help you improve it and make suggestions that you might have not thought of before.

After you have all these things done all you really have left to do is wait to hear back!

To all you freshmen, sophomores and juniors, you can do all of these things too because it is never too early to start college preparation. Of course you cannot apply to college yet but you can have everything ready so that when you are able to apply for college all you have to do is fill out the application because everything else is already done. Also make sure that you take the ACT/SAT and make sure you are prepared for them which means study!

I wish everyone the best of luck and if you need help or have any questions don’t be afraid to ask your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, or even me! Just leave me a comment after you read my blog.