ROCHESTER — Two students who were honored during the 15th-annual Ibero-American Action League gala and Hispanic Scholarship Recognition Awards event are on their way to Harvard University.
Gabriel Treviño, a Joseph C. Wilson Magnet High School, and Maria Fernanda Barragan-Santana, a Nazareth Academy senior, will receive Harvard faculty scholarships in addition to other awards, including Ibero’s $2,000 Hispanic Scholarship award. Treviño plans to study mechanical engineering and Barragan-Santana will study biomedical engineering.
"I was speechless," Barragan-Santana said of her reaction when she learned of the award in early April.
She added that her parents, Salvador Barragan and Miriam Santana of Pittsford, were thrilled. The family moved to the Rochester area from Mexico when she was 4. Her father works for Xerox and the assignment was supposed to be temporary, explained Barragan-Santana, 17. They all became American citizens in 2008.
While going to Harvard was not a lifelong dream, she said that she decided to just go for it when it came time to apply for colleges. She said that she has long been interested in biomedicine, since she did a summer program in the field before the start of high school. And every year at Nazareth Academy she has taken an engineering class called Ascent.
"I was just working hard," Barragan-Santana noted. "I enjoy learning. … I thought, ‘I have a chance.’ And if you don’t apply, you’re definitely not in."
Grace Tillinghast, a Monroe Community College trustee and chairwoman of the scholarship committee, has worked diligently since last fall to get as much scholarship money as possible for Hispanic students. The awards are merit based so the winners represent the "creme of the creme" of Hispanic students locally, said Zoraida Martínez-Allocco, Ibero’s director of development and communications.
Martínez-Allocco also serves on the scholarship committee, whose members mainly focus on the selection of the scholars honored during the gala. Although that recognition is in its 15th year, the Ibero awards have been given out for 25 years, noted Hilda Rosario Escher, Ibero’s president and chief executive officer.
Because of Tillinghast’s efforts, scholarships totaled $1.3 million last year, which included a full scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, compared to about $200,000 the year before.
"What you have to do actually is pound the pavement and talk to people and get the colleges involved," Tillinghast said. "Last year, we grew by leaps and bounds."
Despite the economy still being in recovery, Tillinghast that said the community continues to support the scholarship event by buying whole tables or offering new scholarships. Rosario Escher said that adding such new scholarships is one of her goals with the program.
"Grace has been very instrumental in getting other colleges … to provide scholarships for Latino students," Rosario Escher added. "We wish we could continue growing. For me, education is very important to our community."
In addition to her connections from her former job in community affairs at Eastman Kodak Co., Tillinghast has brought an ethical objectivity to the selection process, Rosario Escher noted.
Martínez-Allocco explained that applicants are rated based on their grades, SAT scores, essays, and volunteer and community work.
"The rankings speak for themselves," she said.
What surprised Barragan-Santana most about this whole college-application process was the reaction of peers who assumed sending her to college would be a financial hardship for her family or that she wasn’t smart enough because her parents speak with an accent, she said. Because of that experience, she added that she would encourage other Latino students to never let that kind of negativity bother them.
"Do not let anyone tell them they are not smart enough, strong enough or intelligent enough," Barragan-Santana remarked. "Always just go for it and put forth your best effort."