Guidance You Can Count On
In 2005, during the first semester of her sophomore year of high school, Isabel Juarez moved with her parents and six siblings from Guatemala to Chicago. Isabel's family had filed a United States visa application two decades earlier, before Isabel had even been born. Perhaps the challenge of continuously applying for a better quality of life was destined to be a part of her life journey, especially during her preparation to apply to college. Fortunately, Chicago Scholars was there to help her see beyond her mountain of applications and climb to her destined future in higher education.
Although adjusting to a new country was very challenging and life changing, Isabel was able to cope with these social and cultural changes by focusing acutely on her education at Schurz High School. "Making friends was a little bit of a challenge," she recalls. "Fortunately, the academics were not, and I could easily concentrate on my classes, which was one of the ways I dealt with any challenges that came culturally."
In spite of her academic successes and desire to express her adjustment and embracement of American life, Isabel envisioned pursuing a college education. "I wanted to start looking at college programs," she explains. "Although the guidance in my high school was directed toward encouraging students to attend community college and vocational programs, I was determined to be my own counselor and discover what other college opportunities were available."
Isabel's opportunity came in the form of a fellow student on the Schurz debate team, who told Isabel about Chicago Scholars. "It sounded like a perfect fit. Like many students accepted into the Chicago Scholars Foundation, I was the first one applying to college in my family," she says. "Although my family supported my education, they did not have the resources or the answers to my college questions. Chicago Scholars was able to provide workshops and one-on-one college counseling that taught me to be a self-sufficient student. They taught me not only how to apply to college, but also how to decide which school is right for me that can meet my educational and financial needs."
After attending many helpful workshops and college counseling sessions with Chicago Scholars, Isabel learned a very important lesson. "Chicago Scholars taught me to be a strong independent scholar and to be a resource for myself and for others." Isabel has even extended what she has learned into an unofficial mentorship for her little brother, Pedro, who is now in the Chicago Scholars class of 2015. "Because I am the first one to pursue a higher education in my family, it was hard to go to my family members for advice about the college process and the experience. Although it was hard for me to be the first, my little brother Pedro is relying on me for that advice I needed and it feels good to be the guidance Chicago Scholars was for me."
In spite of becoming a mentor and ultimately becoming a resource in the making for her family and for her community, Isabel wanted to continue strengthening her educational shoulders. After graduating from high school with a place in the Pomona College class of 2013, she spent a gap year with the international development program. Thinking beyond Borders, where she traveled the globe and studied topics such as sustainable development, public health, and education. "After getting accepted into Pomona College, I felt more compelled than ever to continue reaching and expanding my educational experiences. I would not have had this confidence in my educational goals if it had not been for Chicago Scholars. This organization, this astronomical family, wants their scholars to literally be on top of the world and see eye to eye with the stars we are reaching for."
At Pomona, Isabel initially intended on studying international relations, but decided to change her major by declaring a focus in mathematics. Chicago Scholars supported my educational and professional choices," she says. "For instance, even though I was really interested in law, the internship I participated in at Jenner & Block through Chicago Scholars helped me realize that I am more interested in pursuing my strengths in math. If it was not for this internship, my educational choices would have possibly been directed towards something I was not completely passionate about. Chicago Scholars provides reassurance and guidance that I am so grateful and privileged to have."
Chicago Scholars continues to serve as a guide that not only provides options for their students, but gives them the opportunity to choose which option is right for them. "With the help of Chicago Scholars, I am able to explore many opportunities to help determine the career I am actually interested in achieving. Having guidance that you can count on is something that has been invaluable. So I'm just really grateful that this program exists."