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First Gen Scholars Program Helps Local Students Earn Scholarships to Ivy League

Aklog will be attending Harvard University this fall. Photo courtesy First Gen Scholars.

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Several students from San Diego are receiving full-ride scholarships to Ivy League schools. They are participants of First Gen Scholars, a local nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive college admissions support to students who represent the first generation in their family to attend college in the United States.

Scholarship winner Arsema Aklog will be attending Harvard University this fall. She is a San Diego High senior who joined the First Gen Scholars – Black Cohort. Arsema has great reverence for her Ethiopian heritage and community, teaching herself to transcribe the Amharic language to help the elders in the local community understand what was happening during the pandemic.

Arsema serves as a co-leader of the First Gen Scholars program supporting the San Diego High First Gen Class of 2023.

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Another First Gen Scholars participant and full-ride scholarship recipient is Victoria Ruiz, who is valedictorian and a varsity athlete in swimming and water polo at Montgomery High School. She is the first QuestBridge College Match recipient at her school and will be studying STEM at Dartmouth University. She is a Mexican immigrant raised by a single parent, and she has recently helped to establish a First Gen Club at Montgomery, which started with more than 30 students.

“Even with the challenges of the pandemic, we were able to help these students – the first in their families to go to college – navigate the application process and pursue valuable scholarship opportunities,” said Jonathan Burgos, executive director and founder, First Gen Scholars. “Most of our work was done virtually, and we are extremely proud that our Scholars are getting into the most selective colleges in the country, while also helping remove that barrier of being able to pay for college.”

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Zi Nava Chen will be attending Brown University this fall on a full-ride scholarship, and was also awarded an opportunity to study abroad this summer in Spain. He lives in Logan Heights and attends San Diego High School. His father is Chicano and his mother is Chinese, and he speaks fluent Spanish. Growing up with food insecurity, it was important for him to volunteer weekly at a food distribution center. He also tutors students in Spanish.

First Gen Scholars has assisted 160 students total in San Diego and an additional 20 nationwide. More than half of the students in the program are on track to graduate with no loans to colleges such as Stanford, Yale, and the UC schools. Participants have earned more than $7.2 million in scholarships. Applications to the First Gen Scholars program are now open to Class of 2023 students through June 4, 2022.

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First Gen Scholars started with 26 students in one high school, expanding the following year to serve 78 students in 13 high schools, and this year has supported 180 students in 41 different schools. This past year in 2022, the program yielded 29 Questbridge Finalists and has accumulated $7.2 million in scholarships. For more information, please visit www.firstgenscholars.org.

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