Friday, May 16, 2014

Meeting the Challenge, Celebrating Futures

More than 150 seniors who took part in Spring Branch ISD’s Collegiate Challenge high school programs celebrated their college or university choices, plus more than $2 million in combined scholarships, during the recently held Collegiate Challenge celebration.  Click here to see photos from the night's event >>

 The second annual Collegiate Challenge district celebration was hosted April 30 at the Omni Houston Hotel Westside. It attracted about 300 people, including student participants and family members.

A reception with simple hors d’oeuvres preceded remarks by district leaders and designated student speakers. SBISD Community Relations Officer Linda Buchman greeted the soon-to-be grads. She noted that seniors had completed more than 500 college applications, earned $2.3 million in scholarship offers as of April 30, and chosen to attend 40 separate colleges and universities in 18 states.

Higher ed institutions selected range from Ivy League choices like Cornell and Yale universities to popular local and state options like the University of Texas, Texas A&M, and the home grown University of Houston.

“You have made tough choices. You have had tough choices made for you. But by choosing to go to college, you will make the lives of your families, as well as your own lives, better,” Community Relations Officer Buchman said. “You are all amazing, and will do amazing things!”

Duncan F. Klussmann, Ed.D., SBISD Superintendent of  Schools 

In just its second year of operation as a district-wide initiative, SBISD’s Collegiate Challenge was praised by Superintendent of Schools Duncan Klussmann, Ed.D., but he also described the work of matching willing students with adult mentors as challenging.

SBISD’s T-2-4 goal aims to double the number of students who complete technical certification, military training, or a two-year or four-year degree. “The work that we do with Collegiate Challenge here is what we need to do with all 1,700 to 1,800 graduates in our. We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Superintendent Klussmann told the seniors that their ability to stick with college or university-level coursework and choices was critical, as will be their own response and their family’s response to the stress the comes with college learning and being away from home for the first time.

Picking the right courses in the first year is important, too, he said, before reciting aloud his cell phone number and asking freshmen to call him if they have college-related issues or problems. “You’ve all done incredible things, but we want the best opportunities possible for all of you in the future,” he said.

The Collegiate Challenge evening program included student speeches, videotaped Skype sessions and Student Selfies with SBISD graduates enrolled in college now. Near the program’s closing, drawings were held for male and female bedding sets, as well as four college baskets stuffed with must-haves.

All Collegiate Challenge participating seniors received $5 Starbucks gift cards.

Student Reflections on the 2014 Collegiate Challenge Program:

Vitoria Moreno-Costa of Memorial High School
Good Evening,
I am Vitoria Morena-Costa, a senior and a Collegiate Challenge student at Memorial High School. In the fall of 2014, I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and will pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

Collegiate Challenge has been a wonderful experience for me. Every week when I went with my mentor, Michelle, I found a quiet space to work on applications and irreplaceable that guided me through the hectic and confusing college application process.

No question was a dumb question for Michelle, and I appreciated the opportunity to have someone devote their time to my future success. For example, I remember a time when I was having difficulty brainstorming ideas for my common application. We started thinking about my extracurricular activities. Suddenly, my mentor had an epiphany. I could elaborate on my failures in chemistry research, and the realizations that this brought. From that good idea, my creative juices began to flow, and I created an essay for which I was proud. I have cherished that particular essay, and even re-used. This is only one of her many influences on my future.

Beyond my mentor, I know that I can speak for all in saying that Mrs. (Darla) Shirley and all the opportunities thanks to her have expanded our boundaries. Scholarship opportunities, personality assessments, and college recommendations are just a number of the resources that I wouldn’t have had without Collegiate Challenge. But most importantly, all of this has given me the confidence to reach for my dreams in college.

Of course, I’m very nervous about college in the fall. The incredible people that I will share classes with intimidate me beyond belief. And I’m scared about being away from my parents, and my support group that has always been there in my times of need and stress. But I’m excited. I’m excited about the thousands of opportunities before me, and before all of us. We’re barely just starting our lives, and we have so much to offer the world.  So, thank you all to the mentors, parents and teachers who helped make this happen!

Memorial High School statistics:
Here are a few stats for our Memorial High School Collegiate Challenge program:
  • We have 13 MHS students who will graduate having participated in the Collegiate Challenge program.
  • We averaged a score of 1302 on a 1600 point scale on the SAT, and our average ACT score was an impressive 28.
  • As of last Friday, nine of us had made our college decisions. Three of us were still weighing our options.
  • We will have one UH Cougar, two Texas Longhorns, and one Lamar University Cardinal, whom we are proud to say has earned the prestigious Mirabeau Scholarship valued at nearly $100,000! 
  • Heading out of state, we are proud to have a Duke Blue Devil, and despite having Tim the Beaver as her new mascot, we are super proud to have one of our Collegiate Challenge classmates headed off to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT!
  • All together, we completed 62 applications to 38 universities in 16 states and received 53 acceptances, for an 85% acceptance rate.
  • We have earned slightly more than $100,000 in scholarships, grants and financial aid offers to date.
  • We wish to thank our amazing mentors who have supported us throughout some of our junior year, and all of this year. 
  • At this time I invite to the stage Karen Saltiel, our amazing volunteer coordinator and Darla Shirley, our counselor.
  • If you are a Memorial Mustang senior or one of our fabulous mentors, please stand and be recognized.
Mirna Cardenas of Northbrook High School
Good Evening ladies and gentlemen,

I am Mirna Cardenas, a senior and Collegiate Challenge student at Northbrook High School. I can proudly say that will the help of my mentors and parents I will be attending Texas A&M University in the fall.

Learning the process of applying to college and to scholarships was not easy. The struggles that I , as well as many other students faced,  were a result of the fact that we were new to this and did not have the adequate background to successfully complete the college process without having doubts or concerns.

I could not ask my parents for help with the college process because they had no knowledge of it what so ever. My parents did not attend college, not because they didn’t want to but because their social status at the time required them to get a job in order to provide for the family.

Many of my teachers were too busy organizing classroom work and assignments to provide for me the adequate assistance that I needed as well. Thankfully my school counselor Mr. Gonzalez got me involved in Collegiate Challenge and paired me up with a wonderful mentor, Mr. Castro, who was there to answer any questions I had regarding my education after high school.

The first ever meeting I had with Mr. Castro was more of an inspirational talk. I remember he went on about not letting obstacles get in my way of school and to never settle for less. With just a couple of words of wisdom, I felt like I knew Mr. Castro. The words of encouragement he gave me, reminded me of why I wanted and needed to go to college.

Mr. Castro assured me that I was not alone on this and that I shouldn’t doubt myself when applying to different colleges because it’s normal to be nervous. Many students are not sure of exactly what college they want to attend or what subject they want to major in but the bottom line is – you have to apply. You cannot just sit there and expect colleges and scholarships to come looking for you because they’re not going to award you with acceptance letters and money. You have to distinguish yourself from the crowd and make your application the best that it can be so that it can highlight your accomplishments and success that you’ve achieved here in high school.

If it wasn’t for Mr. Castro and Mr. Gonzalez, my resume would’ve been left blank. My college applications would’ve been incomplete. I would’ve probably not applied for scholarships and wouldn’t have received the money that (Texas) A&M is now giving me. Most likely I would’ve settled for a community college, not to say that a community college is bad but that would’ve proven Mr. Castro’s point – why settle for less, when you have all these opportunities ahead of you, but you’re just unaware of where and how to start.

All those questions that I had were answered by my mentors and that gave me the motivation to approach everything in a positive manner. I was successful with my application process because all my doubts and concerns were cleared up and now I will be attending college after high school.  I truly thank you Mr. Castro and Mr. Gonzalez for being there for me and helping me as wonderful mentors.

Northbrook High School statistics:
I am proud that our NHS Collegiate Challenge student group has embraced and is living out the Spring Branch ISD T24 goal. We are headed to technical schools, community college, and four year institutions to follow our dreams and our passions. Here are a few stats about us:
  • Northbrook High has the largest and longest running Collegiate Challenge program in SBISD! We had the first college room in the district, and we have been so lucky to have Chapelwood United Methodist Church as our long-standing program partner. In recent years, we have been fortunate to have Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, the Notre Dame Club of Houston, and various community members as partners, too. This year, some of our elementary principals even joined in the fun!
  • We have 47 NHS students who will graduate having participated in the Collegiate Challenge program. With 40 of us reporting in, I am proud to announce:
  • We completed more than 150 applications to 33 different colleges, universities and technical schools in six states. With 114 acceptances, we had about a 76% acceptance rate.
  • To date, we have earned approximately $616,000 in scholarships, grants and awards.
  • As of last Friday, we have committed to 13 different universities, with 11 of us still undecided.  All of us are staying in state!
  • We will have 3 UH Cougars, one of whom has earned both an Academic Excellence Scholarship and a scholarship for the Gerald Hines School of Architecture, 1 UH Downtown Gator, two UT Austin Longhorns, with one of us planning to attend UT San Antonio.
  • Texas A&M recruits heavily at our school – and you can tell! Eight of us are headed to College Station, with seven of us earning $20,000 Regents Scholarships which are aimed specifically at first generation students. Five of us have been offered A&M Century Scholarships valued at $21,000 each. The Century Scholars Program is an academic scholarship and retention program seeking to increase the number of enrolled and retained students from under-represented Texas high schools. Several of us were honored to earn both of these prestigious scholarships.
  • One of us will attend Texas A&M Kingsville.
  • Two of us will be Sam Houston State Bearkats, one of us plans to attend the Paul  Mitchell School, and one of us will attend Midwestern State in Wichita Falls.
  • Four of us plan to attend Houston Community College, and we have one Rice Owl in the group.
  • One of us will attend Houston Baptist University with a $56,000 HBU President’s Scholarship, and one of us will be a Texas State University Bobcat.
  • One of us reported a 100% success rate in the scholarship quest, applying for and receiving an Optimists Scholarship, Assistance League Scholarship, Comcast Leaders Scholarship, Gee Foundation and Discuss Scholarships, as well as the Century and Regents scholarships at A&M.
  • We wish to thank our amazing mentors who have supported us throughout this process. Mr. Grubbs, whose photo appears in the program, is the longest tenured Collegiate Challenge mentor – with 14 years of service. 
  • We also wish to thank Mr. Mark Jodon, our amazing volunteer coordinator and Emilio Gonzalez, our counselor. I am honored to invite them to the stage to receive a certificate of our appreciation.
  • As we thank these amazing individuals, we also thank Amy Taylor and our great friends at Chapelwood United Methodist Church, for supporting our program all year, and for helping sponsor our celebration this evening.
  • If you are a Northbrook Raider senior or one of our fabulous mentors, please stand and be recognized.
Helen Scott of Westchester Academy for International Studies
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Helen Scott, a senior and Collegiate Challenge student at Westchester Academy for International Studies. This fall I will be attending Texas A&M in College Station to study nursing.
Over the past year the Collegiate Challenge program truly helped me plan my future and make those goals I set for myself.

My mentor, Charlene Adams, helped me  sift through my interests, needs, and strengths so I could make the best possible college choice.

She brought me brochures and flyers, doing everything in her power to educate me about all my possible choices. One day, early on, she brought me a quiz that would point me in the direction of careers that would fit me. When I got the results, I was incredibly amused and terribly confused to be told that I would make an incredible lumberjack.

And as funny as that is, and as many jokes I made, the results helped me. They made me take my love for the outdoors and for agriculture into account when making college plans. Which ultimately led me to the perfect school for me – Texas A&M!

Had I not been in Collegiate Challenge, and not had the opportunity to work with the wonderful Ms. Adams, I would've never chosen this path.

Westchester Academy statistics:
Here are a few stats for our Westchester Academy Collegiate Challenge program:
  • Westchester started its Collegiate Challenge program about six years ago. We have had partners in our program including the Westchester Alumni Association, the University of Phoenix, and a great group of young leaders from Shell Oil Company. Many of our teachers and parents are mentors, too. We really, really appreciate all of you who help Ms. Martin make our program possible.
  • Twenty-four students, or almost 20% of our class, will graduate having participated in the Collegiate Challenge program. We submitted about 100 college applications to 34 universities in 12 states, Canada, and Europe. Most of us applied to 4 or 5 universities, and most of us gained acceptance to about three of our choices.
  • As of Friday, with a few of us still undecided, we have committed to 13 different universities in 4 states and overseas. 
  • We have our first Posse Scholar, who will be attending Carleton College in Minnesota with a four year full ride scholarship. 
  • One of us will attend the prestigious Colorado School of Mines, with $48,000 in scholarships to make that dream a reality.
  • We have a future Rice Owl, a Texas State Bobcat, three Aggies, four UH Cougars and four UTSA Roadrunners.
  • One of us, a Jones Scholarship winner, will be headed to Trinity University in San Antonio
  • One of us will be going to school in Scotland at the University of Glasgow.
  • We have three Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo scholarship winners.
  • To date, our team of stellar students has earned over $1 million in scholarships!
  • We wish to thank our amazing mentors who have supported us throughout the second semester of our junior year and all of this year.  We also wish to thank Ms. Martin, our wonderful counselor who leads this program on our behalf. Ms. Martin, please come forward to accept a certificate of appreciation from us.
  • If you are a proud Westchester Academy senior or one of our fabulous mentors, please stand and be recognized.
Arden Johnson of Stratford High School
I am Arden Johnson, a senior and Collegiate Challenge student at Stratford High School. I will be attending the University of Virginia in the fall.

I am attending UV (University of Virginia) as a Posse Scholar, and was part of the first student “Posse” to see the University of Virginia at all. Mrs. Franklin, my amazing counselor, nominated me to compete in Posse and, with her encouragement, I went from a group of 800 qualified individuals to a group of 11, winning a full tuition scholarship to UV based solely on leadership and merit.

I am not only part of a support group of 11 that will go to college with me, but I am also part of a nationwide alumni network and internship/career placement program for the rest of my life.

Needless to say, I would not have this blessing if I hadn’t joined Collegiate Challenge and if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Franklin. Now I am planning on double majoring in psychology and neuroscience and following my four undergraduate years with more college to earn my Ph.D. Ideally, one day I will open my own private practice in psychiatry while doing research on the side and maybe writing a book. Who knows?

Collegiate Challenge was actually something that I ended up applying to at the last minute. I didn’t think that I needed the help, but I ended up signing up because I thought that I might as well have the time set aside to work on college things for me. In addition to Mrs. Franklin, my mentor was mainly Mrs. Croix, who was unbelievably helpful through the entire application process. She edited my essays and, to this day, sends me emails for scholarships that are worth applying for.

The help that we receive in this program is not limited to the guidance we receive on paper, but we are also met with constant encouragement and the idea that we can do anything. Mrs. Croix and all the mentors, I really appreciate your help so much. I would have a rougher time if it was not for your dedication to this program, and to us!

Stratford High School statistics:
Here are a few stats for our Stratford High School Collegiate Challenge program:
  • Over the years, the Stratford Collegiate Challenge program has had the support of community partners including Memorial Drive Methodist Church, Notre Dame Alumni, retired SBISD teachers, and community members and this year, Rummel Creek Principal and SBISD Principal of the Year Ms. Nancy Harn!
  • Stratford has 31 students who began participation in the Collegiate Challenge program. The statistics I will share with you are for the sixteen of us who have continued throughout the year and reported data as of last Friday.
  • Our average SAT scores were 1212 on the 1600 point scale, and we averaged a 26 for those of us taking the ACT.  
  • Collectively, we applied to 41 universities in 21 states. We applied to both safe and stretch schools, yielding about a 66% acceptance rate. 
  • As of information available yesterday, we have committed to 10 different universities, in six states!
  •  We, too, are proud to have one of SBISD’s prestigious Posse Scholarship winners. Our Posse scholar is heading off to UVA with a full ride for four years!
  • Also heading out of state are two future Mississippi State Bulldogs, 1 University of Michigan Wolverine, 1 University of Arkansas Razerback, and 1 of us is heading to Ohio Wesleyan with three very prestigious awards including the Founders, Schubert and Recognition Scholarships.  The Schubert Scholarship application even includes a timed essay writing!
  • In state, one of us will attend Houston Community College, one will attend Sam Houston state, and we have three Aggies, including one Regents scholarship winner. One of us will launch our college career at A&M Galveston, 1 will attend Texas State, and 1 will be a Trinity University Tiger. Two of us will be UH Cougars, and one will be a proud UT Longhorn.
  • We are pleased to announce that as of this time, we have earned just under $400,000 in scholarships, grants and financial aid to date.
  • We wish to thank our amazing mentors who have supported us throughout some of our junior year, and all of this year.  We also wish to thank Ms. Vanessa Croix, our counselor who has come over from Spring Forest Middle every other week to support us. We also thank Ms. D’Ann Franklin, our wonderful counselor.  Please come forward and let us thank and applaud your efforts. 
Lily Mendoza of Spring Woods High School
Good Evening,

I am Lilly Mendoza, a senior and Collegiate Challenge student at Spring Woods High School.  I will be attending Cornell University's School of Engineering in the fall. I have received the HACER scholarship through the Ronald McDonald Charity House Fund, and I have been offered a scholarship through the university's Scholars Program. 
Having a mentor through the Collegiate Challenge program at our campus was one of the best things I had this year. From the first time that I met my mentor, I knew she would be the one. When she heard my goals and aspirations, she did not doubt them, but instead encouraged them. And when August came, she was there that first week to keep me focused.
From a young age, I have always had a curiosity for how things work and connect.  I knew that I wanted to reshape the world through innovation and improvement. Over the years, I have seen the difference that engineering presents firsthand. Because of this and other experiences, engineering became the main career interest in my life. I knew that I’d want to become an engineer to better the living standards of nations in poverty.
At the beginning of this year when Ms. Foster asked me what universities I would be applying to, I told her some of the most prestigious universities in the nation. And one of them was Cornell. When it came to the point where I had to write an essay for their Engineering Department, I was nervous. Ever since I was little, reading and writing had never been my strengths. An equation made more sense to me than a story or paper. However, Ms. Foster pushed me to express my passions through words and dive deep into the essence of Cornell’s engineering programs. She encouraged me to research into the university’s programs and identify with one of their known research projects: desalination and water purification program.

After reading the work and goals of the project, I knew that this was the program that I’d base my essay on. After finishing and submitting the application, it was a waiting game. It wasn't until two months later that I received my decision letter. And seeing that amazing word "Congratulations!" made me fall into a state of disbelief. My sisters were ecstatic and jumping around the room, while I just stood there without a word. I'll never forget that day.

Now, months later after receiving that letter, I am finally able to grasp the reality that I will be studying in upstate New York in less than two months. I'd like to thank my family for shaping me to be the person I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. I’d also like to thank Carrie Foster for all the help, time and guidance she gave me this past year. Because of you, I am able to call myself a Cornell Red Bear.

Spring Woods High School statistics:
Here are a few stats for our Spring Woods High School Collegiate Challenge program:
  • While Spring Woods High was one of the first two high schools to launch Collegiate Challenge in 2000, we were without mentors for a number of years. Thankfully, Dr. Klussmann encouraged all of the district administrators to join Ms. Sandra Newton, a professional college advisory, who, had been single-handedly mentoring dozens of SWHS students over the past 
  • We have 42 students who will graduate having participated in the Collegiate Challenge program this year. We had to earn our spots into the program beginning the fall of our junior year with weekly homework assignments and deadlines to meet.  We averaged a 1097 on the SAT, and a 26 on the ACT.
  • We worked really hard – submitting 158 applications to 64 universities in 18 states! With over 100 yeses, we had an acceptance rate of nearly 65%.
  • We, too, are representative of the range of options encouraged by SBISD’s T-2-4 goal.
  • As of Friday, we have committed to 16 different universities and community colleges, and one of us has decided to join the Air Force.  Several of us have earned enough scholarships to possibly make a profit our first year! Three of us were still undecided.
  • Longhorns outnumber Aggies for us – with 8 of us headed to Austin, and 6 headed to College Station. Two Longhorns have earned UT Presidential Achievement Scholarships, and one has earned a UT University Leadership Scholarship. One of us has earned a Regents Scholarship for A&M.  One of our future Aggies is one of two Spring Woods Tigers to win the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship.
  • One of us is going to be sitting on the opposite side of the field from the Longhorns for the annual Cotton Bowl – OU bound, as an OU Presidential Scholar.
  • Several of us are headed north and east – One of us is headed to New York and Colgate with a full ride scholarship, This classmate also earned the prestigious Dell Scholarship. Also headed to New York is one classmate who will attend Cornell with a life changing scholarship. Not too far away in New Haven Connecticut, one of us will attend Yale University – the third oldest university in the nation.
  • One of us will be a Hoosier – attending Indiana University!
  • Closer to home, one of us will be a Baylor Bear, 4 plan to attend Houston Community College and 1 will attend Houston Baptist University as a Freshman Merit Award Winner.
  • Two of us will attend Lone Star College, one will attend St. Edwards, and down the road in New Braunfels, one of us will attend Texas State.  Three of us will attend Texas Women’s, one of whom has earned an Outstanding New Student Scholarship.
  • As of Friday, collectively, we have earned $1,012,674 in scholarships, grants and financial aid offers!
  • We wish to thank our amazing mentors who have supported us throughout much of our junior year, and all of this year.  We also wish to thank our resident College Expert, Sandra Newton, without whom we would not be where we are today and without whom Collegiate Challenge across the district would not be the award-winning program it is. We also thank our counselor, Ms.  Lynch, and Becky Wuerth, our amazing volunteer coordinator. We also wish to thank Pat Waldrop, Ms. Wuerth’s colleague in the SBISD Community Relations Department, who not only co-founded Collegiate Challenge back in 2000, but continues to lead the program district wide today. I invite you all to please come forward at this time so we can thank you. 
  • If you are a Spring Woods Tiger senior or one of our fabulous mentors, please stand and be recognized.


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