As the son of an immigrant, success was never handed to me. My mother once told me, “If you have the opportunity to be successful, take the chance.” My mother has not been afforded the same opportunities as myself. However, she has given me the greatest gifts of leadership, integrity, and ambition. My mother’s drive inspires me to never to give up and to achieve my goals. As a result, I am able to attend Santa Clara University fully funded to the completion of my Ph.D. through the Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program. My humble beginnings have allowed me to value education as the only way someone like me can “make it.” However, my road to success didn’t happen alone.
Mentorship is the key to my success. My journey began through Verbum Dei High School’s Adopt-A-Student Program where donors and mentors reach out to the students and assist them financially but, most importantly, with mentorship. My mentor helped me gain confidence in public speaking, communications, and educational success. As a result, since my senior year of high school, I have mentored the incoming freshman class as they journey through their senior year.
In addition to my opportunity as a GMS, I also became a Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholar. Through HSF, I attended the 2018 inaugural Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) as a summit counselor and mentor for low-income and first-generation high school seniors. The YLS educates high school students on scholarships, college application process, financial literacy, and much more. Many of my mentees clearly felt a sense of relief by having someone they can identify with and learning about all the resources available to them. Students who come from minority backgrounds need to see themselves reflected in professional settings. It is vital to highlight minority individuals who are accomplishing significant milestones. If minority students have mentors in their preferred career, they can then connect and find a similar path. As a low-income and first-generation student, I did not have the resources or contacts on my own to achieve success but having mentors and programs like HSF and GMS make a difference.
Mentorship gives me a new perspective on how to tackle certain obstacles and turn them into victories. Understanding the value of mentorship, I decided on attending a smaller institution. With smaller class sizes, I can more easily build relationships with professors who understand my potential and can connect me with people in my field. Through my experiences, I’ve learned that professors want to help students, but sometimes those of us from minority backgrounds may be less willing, if not scared, to ask for help. However, we should not be hesitant to ask questions. Asking for help makes our success story that much more impactful, and after all, success doesn’t happen alone.
Jonathan Herrera is a student at Santa Clara University and was a Fall 2018 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.