As she prepares to graduate from Washington-Liberty High School and head off to a full-ride college scholarship, Karen Gonzales Cifuentes already has strong feelings about where her future path could lead.
“It’s the next step in what I want to do with my life, how I want to get where I want to go – working in the tech field,” she said of heading to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “I am excited to focus on my passion [and] looking forward to meeting people interested in the same things I’m interested in.”
Gonzales Cifuentes is among 42 high-school seniors from AHC Inc. apartment communities who have benefited from the housing organization’s College and Career-Readiness Program, which provides ongoing support and pairs them with adult mentors to navigate the often daunting task of getting into college, paying for it and ultimately finding success and fulfillment there.
Of those 42, a total of 39 are going to two- or four-year institutions of higher education, one is headed to the U.S. Marine Corps and two are taking a “gap year” to consider their options. Residents of 14 different AHC apartment communities, they attend seven high schools: five in Arlington, one in Fairfax and one in Alexandria.
Among the cohort is Alishaba Hayat, who will be off to the University of Virginia and plans to study engineering while also considering a pre-med course of studies.
Hayat joined the College and Career-Readiness program the summer before junior year, just as the college-selection effort was about the gear up.
“This program gave me insight into the whole process, a year in advance, so when it came to apply, I was ready,” the Yorktown High School senior said.
Many of the students in the program are immigrants or children of immigrants, and many will be the first in their immediate families to go to college.
The students involved “are nothing short of amazing,” said Gabriela Segovia, manager of the College and Career-Readiness program for AHC. “I was inspired by their ability to work relentlessly to get ahead despite the barriers.”
Though the May 6 event wasn’t her first college-signing day with the organization, it did mark the first group of seniors Segovia had supported from beginning to end.
“There is no barrier too great for a village like ours,” she told students, reporting that the group collectively had been admitted to 125 colleges and received a combined $6 million in financial support.
“The majority of our students won’t pay more than $1,000 per year for their college education,” Segovia said.
While the thrill of high-school graduation and the (sometimes nervous) excitement of heading off to college wait in the wings, there are some real-world endeavors the students also must deal with.
Joel Jonathan Escobar, who is headed to college in Rochester, N.Y., with the goal of becoming a teacher, is on the hunt for a summer job.
“Although my scholarship will pay for a lot of expenses, I will still need to cover some of the fees, and want to have some money to spend,” he said.
The Arlington native is the first in his family to head off to college, something he hopes his younger brother (a middle-school student) will emulate when the time comes.
“I hope my journey is inspiring him,” Escobar said.