Luis remembers when he got the letter from College Success Foundation during his third year at Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Washington. At the time, he knew his options for a college education were very limited.
“I had no idea what CSF was about—all I knew was it had the words ‘college’ and ‘success’ in it,” he says.
Little did he know that this letter would be the catalyst for changing his life and mark the beginning of a series of events that would lead him down the path to a college degree.
Born in Mexico, Luis came to the Yakima Valley with his family when he was 6 years old. He thought his immigration status would get in the way of pursuing his dreams, so he didn’t try as hard during his freshman and sophomore year.
“I didn’t take any of the classes I needed, I wasn’t involved with any sports or clubs, and I wasn’t connected with school as much. I couldn’t think much beyond high school,” he says.
Then he got the letter from CSF inviting him to apply for CSF Achievers, a college pathway program for eleventh and twelfth graders. He showed the letter to one of his mentors, a professor at Heritage University, and she encouraged him to go for it.
“That was the first time I reflected on what my aspirations were,” he says.
Creating a Ripple Effect
Luis began working with Yolanda Guzman, the CSF College Prep Advisor at Eisenhower, who became his primary mentor and support. She exposed him to a variety of opportunities inside and outside of school, including a summer program for business and leadership at Central Washington University. She also encouraged him to run for senior class president after his English teacher, who saw his leadership potential, gave him an application.
“It was totally out of my comfort zone. I was an average kid who had no experience, but I ran—and I won,” he says. “It gave me courage and confidence, and I saw it as an opportunity to uplift other people who looked like me and weren’t gifted with athletic ability or a part of clubs. I felt a responsibility to give them a voice.”
Through CSF, Luis found out about a competitive full leadership scholarship to Heritage University near Yakima.
“Yolanda said there was a student from Eisenhower that got it the previous year, so I gave it a shot and applied for it,” he says. “It was almost like a ripple effect: After being given the chance to be part of CSF, I got the opportunity to be a part of ASB leadership which opened the opportunity for the scholarship and a college education.”
Becoming a First-Generation College Student
The transition from high school to college was difficult for Luis. He struggled to adjust to college culture, and there were many times he became frustrated and wanted to quit.
“I didn’t realize what being a first-generation college student really meant,” he says. “In high school you check out once it’s 3 p.m., but in college you have classes, projects, and homework all the time. I felt I wasn’t smart enough, and it was too hard at first.”
To address these challenges, Luis began building relationships with other scholarship recipients and got to know his professors. He also created a routine and “got rid of the victim mindset.”
“Learning and being exposed to new things was really exciting for me,” he says.
Luis graduated in spring 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and a concentration in entrepreneurship, becoming the first member of his family to earn college degree. He dreamed of working for a nonprofit organization that would help the community.
“I think business is a form of leadership, and I knew I wanted to continue organizing and helping other people,” he says.
Impacting the Community
After graduation, Luis began working for a Yakima Valley nonprofit foundation which focuses on education, health and wellness, and civic engagement.
“It was great to be able to tell my story about the powerful impact CSF has,” he says. “They inspired me to do more than I thought I was able to.”
Luis recently took the lead in organizing the first CSF Yakima Alumni Mixer and forming a regional alumni group. Their goals include mentoring and creating a support system for CSF high school and college students, working on a summer melt program, and fundraising for scholarships. Through this group, Luis aims to inspire other first-generation college students.
“I want to lead with my actions and show them that if you are not happy with your circumstances, you should do something about it,” he says. “My college education gave me opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have had and relationships with people I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and the difficulties that came with being a first-generation college student made me a stronger person.”