Four-year scholarship supports first-generation college students
ESPAÑOLA, NM — Four Española Valley High School (EVHS) students who participate in the Northern New Mexico College Upward Bound program have been awarded Davis New Mexico Scholarships, which provide full cost-of-attendance for first-generation New Mexican students. Jessica Arevalo, Megan Manzanares, Isabella Pacheco and Clara Sotelo are among 50 scholars selected from 185 applicants.
“It’s just so huge for us, to have four of those 50 recipients come from Española, from our little high school,” said Upward Bound Director Tobe Bott-Lyons. “They’re competing with students from all over the state and from very well-known, well-regarded schools. It really says something about the quality of student that is coming out of the high school.”
The Davis New Mexico Scholarship mission is to break the generational opportunity gap in New Mexico by creating and strengthening pathways to higher education for all first-generation college-going students.
Ninety-three percent of Davis New Mexico Scholars graduate with a bachelor's degree in four years. According to The Center for First-generation Student Success (https://firstgen.naspa.org/), the four-year graduation rate for first-generation college students averages just 27 percent. Finding students most likely to meet that goal begins with the Davis application, which NNMC’s Upward Bound students described as requiring a lot of time, motivation and determination. Applicants submit four essays, compile a list of 10 clubs or activities they participate in and secure a letter of recommendation.
The scholarship, valued at approximately $250,000, covers full cost-of-attendance, including travel, tuition, books and housing. “That means our students earned a million dollars in scholarships just between the four of them,” said Bott-Lyon.
Davis scholars can choose between six out-of-state partner colleges with a proven track record of success with first-generation college-going students: Lawrence University, Occidental College, Southwestern University, St. Edward’s University, University of Denver or University of Portland.
All four young women were drawn to attending an out-of-state college and are taking advantage of Davis sponsored expense paid trips to tour the campuses, which helps students envision what their lives could look like in that environment. The University of Portland is at the top of Jessica Arevalo’s list, where she anticipates pursuing a degree in public health.
“I think I’m most excited to get to know a different state and a different city, because I’ve lived in New Mexico and Española my whole life,” said Jessica Arevalo. “I’m just excited about all the discoveries I’m going to make about myself and the people around me and the chance to meet new people and figure my life out.”
Clara Sotelo is leaning toward Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, which offers a pre-veterinary program that interests her. She is looking forward to “finding new horizons.”
“I’m excited about the chance to go to college, to expand my education and to better myself, learn more about myself,” Sotelo said.
Sotelo joined the Upward Bound program the summer before her sophomore year,
“I really discovered myself through Upward Bound and learned all the small aspects of myself that I didn’t know about before,” Sotelo said. “And Upward Bound has brought me to a lot of great opportunities. Apart from my scholarship, it’s overall been a very big part of my life ever since I joined.”
Isabella Pacheco is excited about being the first person in her family to go to college and get a four-year degree. She is leaning toward Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, drawn to its small campus and small class sizes. She plans to major in computer science.
Pacheco was a freshman when a friend invited her to take a look at Outward Bound.
“I needed help with homework, so I thought it was a great opportunity,” Pacheco said. “And then after that first day I loved it, so I just kept going.
“I love that there’s always help there and you’re able to get ahead. You’re able to do dual credit classes, so that’s cool. It helped me to understand how college classes are in general. And since they had clubs, I was able to be a part of my community and it also helped me discover who I am and what I want to do with my life.”
Upward Bound supported Pacheco’s interest in coding by helping her get involved in Girls Who Code, a summer coding boot camp for young women, and facilitated a student robotics club that Pacheco led.
NNMC’s Upward Bound program, funded through a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education, serves approximately 60 students a year. The intensive academic preparation program includes afterschool tutoring, Saturday Academy workshops at NNMC, a 6-week Summer Academy, field trips and college visits, leadership development and family engagement and academic counseling. The goal is college readiness for low-income and first-generation students at Española Valley High School.
“The number one thing we focus on is GPA: are they getting good grades, and can we help them get good grades and can we help them get good grades in the hardest classes they can take?” Bott-Lyons said. Dual credit courses at NNMC are a major component of that.
“It’s also helping people stay engaged in school and education and explore their interests and strengths,” Bott-Lyons added. “In terms of being ready for college, those are the big things: building your strengths and your interests and getting good grades. That’s what makes you competitive for a scholarship and getting into different kinds of colleges.”
One focus of the program is helping student build their resumes by joining clubs, pursuing an interest or engaging in community service projects.
Coaching first-generation students on the logistics of attending college, such as how to obtain transcripts and letters of recommendations, is another element. One of the most important tasks is helping students write college entrance and scholarship essays.
“The summer before our senior year we spend a lot of time brainstorming our lives and memories so we have an idea of what we want to write about in the essays, and I found that to be really helpful, not so much in giving me the ideas that I was actually going to write about, but it taught me how to think about certain things differently, and how to write about them,” Arevalo said.
This graduating class faced special challenges due to COVID-19. Instead of spending the summer between their sophomore and junior year on the NNMC campus they attended a full-time online summer program which included a dual credit course, and English bridge course, an advisory class and study labs. All the clubs met virtually as well. The grueling online schedule continued through their junior year, including online SAT preparation.
“It was just really hard to focus and stay motivated and do all of the work.,” Arevalo said. “And it was hard to communicate as well, so if I did have an issue, I found it a lot harder to get help.”
Having a virtual junior year was especially challenging, since a major focus of that year is exploring colleges. Instead of in person college visits, all college research was done virtually.
“One of the most important things to set somebody up to be successful in college is that they find the right place to go,” Bott-Lyons said. “Going to Northern is a great option. It’s not the best option for a lot of people. Going out-of-state is a great option. It’s not a great option for a lot of students. Being able to figure out that difference while you’re in high school is a lot better than getting somewhere and realizing it’s not a workable situation for you.”
Megan Manzanares appreciates how Upward Bound prepared her to research colleges and write essays and the club and activity opportunities they provided.
“They’ve also prepared me by just giving me advice that I don’t think anyone or any teacher could give me, because they specialize in this,” Manzanares said. “They knew exactly where to put me and how to help me out with the whole college process and the application process. They just pushed me so hard and so good that I’m able to become the person that I am today. I couldn’t imagine doing it on my own.”
Manzanares is taking advantage of the Davis college tours to visit all six colleges, although she is leaning toward either the University of Portland or the University of Denver. She has a special affinity for chemistry and plans to major in a science field.
Having the highest number of Davis scholars since NNMC’s Upward Bound joined the Davis partnership attests to the perseverance of this year’s graduating class.
“Of course, I think all of our students deserve this scholarship – because they do – and this year we had a particularly amazing class,” Bott-Lyons said. “These girls are pretty amazing, so I can’t take much credit. I have an awesome job.
“But I am very proud of our program. This is our fifth year, so I feel like Northern has built a very cool thing, and I hope it lasts a very long time in the Valley.”
Learn more about these remarkable students this Rio Grande Sun article, https://www.riograndesun.com/news/four-students-land-full-ride-scholarships/article_528e6342-aae0-11ec-8d03-07b5b81ab544.html.