Every high school student deserves the opportunity to pursue higher education to benefit themselves and their family if they choose.
That was the thought behind Matt Souza and a couple of friends joining together in 2012 to create a private scholarship fund to help undocumented Latino students from five area high schools. That supports their educations while attending Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, Ivy Tech Community College Columbus and Purdue Polytechnic.
In Indiana, undocumented students are not eligible to receive state or federal financial aid for college, and that’s a problem because college isn’t free, said Souza, special assistant to the vice chancellor and dean for strategy at IUPUC.
“All I ask of these undocumented Latino scholarship students of mine is that when they graduate, they go out and they make their world a better place,” Souza said. “That’s all I ask, and I believe that’s all we should ask of them.”
Now, the efforts have reached Latino students at Seymour High School.
On Friday night, 21 students were presented graphing calculators to benefit their educational efforts from the Latino-American Organization of Volunteers in Education Scholarship Fund.
The purposes of that organization are to create community partnerships to help build mutual networking opportunities and reaching and educating more Latino students in middle and high schools to advocate higher education and community involvement.
To qualify to receive the calculators, students had to fill out an application and submit three essays. They had to explain why they wanted a scholarship and why they needed a graphing calculator and list their extracurricular activities.
They also had to turn in their transcript and schedule of classes and demonstrate leadership and success in their high school courses.
Senior Daniela Vasquez said the recipients put in a lot of work to be rewarded.
“You feel pride, and you feel more motivated to keep going and applying for more scholarships, to not give up,” she said.
Classmate Angela Peña said graphing calculators are expensive, so it was nice to apply and receive one.
“I feel accomplished,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting.”
Another senior, Emmanuel Martinez, said the scholarship is a great opportunity for Latinos.
“Something that specifically would apply to Latino Americans, I felt like it would be a little easier for me,” he said. “But at the same time, I knew it was very competitive and that they would only select a few of the many that I saw would apply.”
Belitzabeth Vazquez, a Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist at Seymour High School, said the scholarship was open to Latino students in any high school grade.
She said she is proud of the Seymour students for putting forth the effort to apply.
“For me, it means a lot,” she said. “It gives me a lot of energy wanting to do more for them, wanting to keep knocking on the doors and look for more opportunities for them because they do deserve it, they do need it, and it’s going to give them more energy, as well.”
All 21 of the recipients plan to attend college.
“Hopefully, they will continue to do more because they earned it,” Vazquez said. “They did what they had to do in high school. They did what they had to do at home, demonstrating to their parents, ‘Hey, I’m being acknowledged tonight. Be a part of my success.’ I just want them to continue that. There are so many opportunities for them, but they just need to work on them.”
Austin Creasy, an assistant professor at Purdue Polytechnic, spoke to the students before presenting the calculators.
It was a unique opportunity because he said a graphing calculator helped him get to where he is today.
“When I was a junior, my father got me my first graphing calculator so I could take trigonometry because I was really good at math. That’s what I was focused on,” Creasy said.
“Because of that gift that he gave me as a junior, it put me forward to go into engineering and set that cap for me so that I could go into engineering, get my undergrad and then go into grad school,” he said. “And now, I’m teaching other engineers how to be engineers.”
Since becoming involved in the LOVE Scholarship Fund, he has been able to ensure Latino students have the educational tools they need.
“I just want you guys as students to know that when you receive these tools, use them, take advantage of them, have goals, dream big and then try to go out and get them,” he told the Seymour students. “If you do that, you would be amazed at where you could go. … I’m excited to see what you guys have accomplished and see what you’re going to accomplish.”
Souza also congratulated the Seymour students and touted them for pursuing a higher education degree.
“I want you to start fighting harder for your dreams,” he said. “These young LOVE students fight every day to make their dreams come true, and you can, too.”