Howard University, Class of 2021
BA in Communications -- Public Relations
“During high school my brother and I were in foster care, but College AIM still helped us both to obtain maximum financial aid for college. I am now attending Howard University in Washington, DC on a full ride, and my brother is at Union College in New York — also attending with a full scholarship."
Tufts University, Class of 2019/2020
BS/MS in Mechanical Engineering
Hernán was the first in his family to go to college, so he understands why it's so difficult for first-generation students to make it through. As a freshman in college, he endowed a scholarship using his refund check to ensure that the students behind him had it a little bit easier than he did. He has given that scholarship to a graduating College AIM student for each of the past three years.
In college, Hernán has completed extensive research on Engineering Education, studied abroad in France, worked as a STEM Ambassador with under-represented students in local high schools and served as president of a campus dance group.
Hernán also serves as a member of College AIM's Board of Directors.
As I made it through the endless security line and approached my terminal I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. Common airplane-related nightmares filled me with anxiety. On the plane I watched out the small window and remembered how the sky had always piqued my curiosity.As a young child, I would gaze up and watch miniscule planes leave trails of exhaust across the clear blue sky. I imagined that each was Buzz Lightyear from "Toy Story,” flying from coast to coast on a life-saving mission. As I grew older I remained intrigued by traveling tens of thousands of feet above the ground, by tons of metal appearing suspended in the air, by velocities approaching the speed of sound. To me it was magical because before this trip, as an eighteen-year-old high school senior, I had never boarded a plane and ascended into the sky.
Finances were frequently tight in my house and luxuries such as air travel were always out of the picture. Throughout my childhood my mom worked as a housemaid and my dad worked in construction. My parents have sacrificed, working physically demanding jobs to give me the opportunity to become a first generation American and a first generation college student.
With inspiration from home to provide a better life for the next generation of my family, I’ve seen a blueprint for my education slowly unfold. My school has consistently been ranked as one of the lowest performing high schools in Georgia, but I’ve gained an appreciation for, and grasped, any opportunity because my parents had so few. In Mexico, they barely finished elementary school before needing to support each of their families.
Having moved to America without significant education, my father has needed me to serve as his personal and professional translator. Despite needing my support though, from a young age my father was the man who I wanted to become; I idolized him. He could fix anything; whether it was a car or machinery at his job he always found the solution to any problem. Over time, at his side, I’ve developed similar technical skills and a passion for engineering.
As I’ve matured though, I’ve come to realize that my father is not the person I saw when I was a child. Last summer, my father found that I had dyed my hair without his permission. He was immediately upset and began hurling homophobic slurs across the room. His outdated, hateful perspective equated dyed hair with being homosexual. He demanded to know if I was gay. I responded, “No, but what if I were?” He said that he would rather shoot himself than live with that “burden.” As has often been the case, he was judgmental when he should have been accepting. On that day I realized that he was not the man that I wanted to become.
From my father I have learned a passion for working with my hands, for creation and for problem solving. But from my community I have become a more socially conscious young man, one who wants to lead and set a moral standard for those behind me. My father no doubt has contributed to my development but I recognize his shortcomings. I understand the importance of balancing personal ambition with compassion for others.
Within my community, within my school and within my family, academic passion is rare. The drive to become an aerospace engineer, quite literally a “rocket scientist,” is unheard of at Towers. This is what I have to give. I can be both accomplished and compassionate. I can be the torchbearer. I can be the trail of exhaust in the sky, the “puff of smoke” in the distance that etches the trail to both achievement and acceptance for my younger relatives and kids in my community. I can be their Buzz Lightyear; I can allow them to dream without restriction.
Brandeis University, Class of 2020
BS in African and Afro-American Studies
In Chari's first year at Brandeis she became heavily involved in work to make campus more hospitable to under-represented students. After authoring numerous demands and spending nearly two weeks occupying the administrative building with a group of fellow-students, Chari earned a seat at the table to negotiate with campus administrators.
Since then, Chari has been elected Undergraduate Representative for the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, starred in an on-campus production and has worked as a TA for upper-level courses. She is also currently completing archival research at the intersection of Music and African American studies.
When I was three weeks old, my mother dropped me off at my paternal grandmother’s house and never came back. My biological mother was homeless, in abusive relationships and constantly using drugs. My biological father was never at home for long, always on binges and in and out of jail.
I spend hours daydreaming of where I would be if my paternal grandmother hadn’t adopted me. My imagination doesn’t have to travel far though. I see my alternate reality daily as I watch my 19 year-old sister struggle to raise my niece and nephew and as I witness my younger brother and sister increasingly succumb to the influences of their turbulent surroundings. My mother and biological siblings live across the street from me; each day I see them at school and in our neighborhood. My biological father occasionally spends the night at my house, on his way to and from binges. My family, always nearby, stitched the cloth of who I am, yet they remain so far from the tapestry that I am becoming.
My biological parents and siblings may never step foot on a college campus, write a personal narrative or realize their talents. Through our increasingly divergent experiences though, a flare has been born in me, a drive to go where no one in my family has gone before.
It is clear that my dad’s mother saved my life; she provided my alternate existence. Upon my arrival, my grandmother instantly fell in love with my “big brown eyes” and “thick eyebrows.” She made it her purpose to ensure that I never stepped foot in, or fell prey to, the lifestyle in which my parents, to this day, still indulge.
While trying to find my own purpose, I found myself deluged in music, poetry, knowledge of my ancestors, and books about civil rights. I used those kings and queens as the influence for the new, spiritual family I would collect over time.
I stumbled upon people who have had a significant impact on me. I met my father, Pastor Tommy Conley, who taught me that I could not do anything without God at the helm. Later I gained a brother, Lee, who influenced me to develop a balance between my personal and spiritual lives. From the beginning I had my mother, who charged me to be aware of tradition but not allow it to keep me stagnant. I also found a sister, Summer, who taught me to keep my head up because true queens never drop their crowns. Most recently I added my teacher, Mr. Aleinikoff, who reminds me daily to get the job done. These people, who hold a special place in my heart, have each made up what I feel my proper “family” is.
When establishing my brand, and who I want to become, I will keep my family in mind. I will use my father’s words to help me prosper through the bad days, the power that my spiritual mother reminds me that I have, the swagger that my sister will not let me live without, the endurance my brother prays I maintain and the work ethic my teacher has helped me to find. Though one may look at my family and see a broad array of religions, skin tones and sizes, I feel that this diversity has made me the empowered person I am today. Though society may look at my life and feel disheartened by my beginnings, I take heed to what I was given, and let it make me stronger. My foundation may have been cracked, but I trust that God will continue to fill in the gaps.