As seniors Pooja Patel and Cynthia Santiago graduate from Dr. Phillips High and head to college, they won’t be alone.
Not only will they have $20,000, a laptop and textbook credits in hand, but also they will be equipped with confidential counseling, financial-aid coaching, work-life solutions and support staff.
Patel and Santiago are two of only 14 students in the state — and 500 in the country — to have been named Dell Scholars.
Dell Scholars is a “scholarship and college-completion program that nurtures and empowers students on their path to a college degree,” according to the program website. It began in 2004 under the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation with the aim of supporting low-income, first-generation students on their journey to college graduation.
The scholarship recipients receive financial assistance as well as access to resources and mentoring.
According to a 2016 study, Dell Scholars are 25% more likely to earn their bachelor’s degrees within four to six years of high-school graduation, compared with students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
Patel found the program when searching for scholarships online, and Santiago decided to apply when her AVID teacher mentioned it to the class.
“It was a long process,” Patel said. “It required a lot of short responses. It was kind of like a get-to-know-you application — where you come from, what your future plans are and stuff like that.”
Santiago said she completed the application in pieces — and initially considered not even applying at all because of a schedule packed with work and school. Patel also balances work and extracurriculars with her academics.
The application process may have been long, but the reward was worth the time. On April 10, both students learned they had been accepted.
“I have notification alerts on my phone so I got an email notification early in the morning, at 6 a.m.,” Patel said. “I was half sleepy and half awake, and I clicked on it, and it was like, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted,’ and I started screaming. I woke up my mom. … When I found out — the moment after and when everything sank in — I cried.”
Santiago learned of her award later that morning in class.
It takes a heavy financial burden off their shoulders: Both Patel and Santiago will have to pay their own ways through college.
“I knew I was going to have to get grants or take out loans or just pay my way,” Santiago said. “To know that that burden is lifted off me tremendously makes me so appreciative.”
Santiago will attend Valencia College for her associate’s degree before heading to George Mason University in Virginia for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology. She hopes to become a counselor one day.
Patel is headed to Florida International University to major in health sciences, after which she plans to continue on to medical school to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.