NewsMay 16, 2018

Urban Scholars Initiative celebrates first full graduating class

First-generation college students are ‘trailblazers’

The Urban Scholars Initiative (USI) achieves a major milestone this month with the graduation of its first full cohort of students.

Lesley launched USI in 2013 with the desire to provide deserving students with financial access and the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s degree while also offering academic and social support. Identified through our partnership with 16 community-based organizations, many of these students are the first in their family to attend college.

The USI students as freshmen standing outside Alumni Hall with green and white balloons.
A picture of the USI students as freshmen.

Although the first USI students matriculated in 2013, a full cohort students started the following year. Coming into the program at the beginning, these “trailblazers” helped to define and refine USI, says USI Director Maritsa Barros.

“They shaped the types of support services provided, the style in which the services are delivered and the helped shape the future of USI,” she says. “Most importantly, they raised the bar for students who will follow them in the areas of academia, leadership and community service.”

USI staff, faculty and peer mentors supported the students from orientation through their senior year.

Albert Myers in front of 13 Mellen building.

Albert Myers, Psychology

“The advising of USI and the mentors that I have had since being a part of this program have helped to forge my path and make it more clear what exactly I want to do and the impact I want to have on the community at large…. [They] have helped me to understand what it means to make change, what it means to stand for that change and what it means to put action behind it.”

“I felt like I never had to do this alone,” says Marcela Torres Sanchez, a biology and psychology double major. “It was helpful to have that extra support, that person being able to direct you in what you should be doing, (asking) how are you doing, do you need help with anything.”

The leadership also helped the students to express and represent themselves in a largely white academic environment.

“They challenged Lesley to look in the mirror and work towards creating a more inclusive campus,” says Barros.

Collectively, these students have mastered the skills of public speaking, self-advocacy, social and political activism, and community organizing, becoming leaders in all areas of the university — from the Office of the Provost and the Admissions Department to Student and Residential Life, IT and public safety.

Leonela Ramirez-Trejo on Doble campus with flowering tree behind her.

Leonela Ramirez-Trejo, Business Management

“I believe that there is no way I would have attended Lesley if it wasn't for the help of USI. Growing up with a single father and always struggling to make ends meet pushed me to get the education I have received at Lesley. I will not stop working to help those in need … it's only the beginning of a greater good.”

USI students have developed their leadership skills in roles that include class president, teaching English in Cape Verde, volunteering as a community advisor, serving as president of the Multicultural Club, interning through the Harvard Ed Portal, studying abroad, welcoming new students as an orientation leader, interning at State Street Corporation, organizing a march for racial justice, backpacking in Wyoming, and interning in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DC office.

The USI graduates in cap and gown, all wear a green sash.
The USI graduates, in cap and gown, are ready to walk across the stage at Commencement.

The students have been persistent in their push to be heard, to call for a more diverse campus, and to open dialog between the various groups who are part of the Lesley community.

As Barros affirms, the students are “reflective of every Lesley University student. They are extroverts, introverts, activists, natural-born leaders, artists, educators, innovators, dreamers and life-long learners.”

Rocky postulating in front of his artwork

Rocky Cotard, Illustration

“Graduating from college is a huge accomplishment, and I think to have it be associated with a program that is about fostering community makes it all the more so."

Although they are ready for their next chapter, the soon-to-be-graduates aren’t eager to leave behind their USI experience.

“It’s a bittersweet experience graduating and being part of the first USI cohort,” said Albert Myers, a psychology major. “To see how the program has changed over the past few years, how it’s helping make the college experience more accessible to more people… it’s a warm feeling.”

At Commencement on May 19, we look forward to celebrating our USI graduates — Karina Buruca, Rocky Cotard, Annabelle Feliz Soto, Elyssa Glassman, Albert Myers, Rocio Perez, Leonela Ramirez-Trejo, Allison Richardson, Matthew Saluti, Anaëlle Séïde, Archibaldo Soto Lora, Marcela Torres Sanchez, Kelsey Arbona* and Cynthia Lopes*.

*These students completed their degrees in December 2017.