Scholar and Alumni Newsletter
February 2017
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Scholar and Alumni Newsletter

February 2017

A Message from the Simon Scholars Staff

     Greetings Simon Scholar college students and alumni, and a belated Happy New Year to you all! A lot has transpired since our last newsletter in September 2016. Obviously, our country has entered a new era, and we have seen and heard how many of you are impacted by these developments. We are inspired by your strength and determination during these uncertain times, and we applaud your efforts to make your voices heard. Now more than ever, we are convinced that the path to a better future is through education and empowerment. We are also reminded of the power of each our your stories. The stories you carry with you, the ones that have formed you and carried you to where you are today, are the stories that will shape the future of our country. These stories of struggle and determination, faith and commitment, overcoming obstacles and beating all odds, hope and optimism in the face of adversity...these are the stories that you, tomorrow’s leaders, will bring to the world. They will determine what kind of student, community member, spouse, parent, employee and boss you are. These stories give you character, and they give us hope. Thank you for letting the Simon Scholars community play a role in your story.

Graduation Announcements

Congratulations to the following Scholars for successfully completing their undergraduate degree in December! 

Maritza Ochoa
Capital High School, Class of 2012

Bachelor of Arts, Family Studies,
minor in Psychology

University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM
Juan-Pablo Morales
South Valley Academy, Class of 2012

Bachelor of Business Administration, 
focus in Management Information Systems

University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM

Program Updates

High School Program Updates:                                          
As always, our high school scholars are very busy. Our Class of 2017 scholars are well on their way with college and scholarship applications: 4 seniors have received the Davis scholarship, 2 are Daniels semi-finalists, 2 are BA/MD semi-finalists and many are already receiving college acceptance letters! We are very proud of and excited for all of them. Our class of 2018 scholars are about to launch their college research process, and they have already had the chance to meet with representatives from a few of our partner colleges and hear directly from a group of current college scholars. We are looking forward to our tour of Colorado colleges this spring with our current juniors. We are also thrilled that 3 juniors from Santa Fe will be participating in the Bali Art Project this summer!


We would like to give a special thanks to those of you who recently assisted with recruiting at our partner high schools: Valeria Urbina, Cinthia Manriquez, Ivan Comparan, Josh Wade, Wendi Martinez, Marilyn Cisneros, Ronald Orozco, Blanca Ortiz and Selma Gutierrez. Your presence was greatly appreciated and incredibly valuable. The application for the Class of 2019 is now open, and it is due on February 15. We are excited to meet our next class of Simon Scholars!

We would also like to recognize those of you who joined us for our January Retreat to speak about your college journeys: Selma Gutierrez, Jorge Lira, Jonathan Lujan, Ivan Comparan and Andres Sotelo. You all did a wonderful job presenting and facilitating, and your honest, thoughtful reflections were the highlight of our weekend. We are incredibly thankful for our stellar alums who served as staff and also shared aspects of their stories: Alyssa Romero, Ronald Orozco, Marilyn Cisneros, Janeth Santos and Santa Fe Tutor Coordinator Mario Moreno. Thanks for keeping everyone safe out there!

We are excited to announce that we have added a new high school partner school this year, New Mexico School for the Arts. NMSA is a statewide charter school for visual and performing arts that is based in Santa Fe. We are certain that these talented  young people will contribute greatly to our community of scholars! We are saddened, however, to announce that we are ending our partnership with West Mesa High School. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many amazing WMHS scholars over the years.


Website Launch:                                                       

We hope that you have all had the opportunity to check out our new website: . Over the past year, our team spent considerable time updating the Simon Scholars Program Mission, Vision and Philosophy, and we feel that this new site accurate portrays who we are, what we do, and why this community matters. We are still in the process of adding some content, such as high school scholar bios, and  resources such as summer programs and scholarships. Over the next 6 months, we will reach out to our alumni to gather information for each of your bios as well. Stay tuned!

Alumni Advisory Team:
In November, a group of college scholars and alumni gathered at UNM to discuss the current state of affairs with the Scholars Program and offer suggestions about some strategic initiatives moving forward. It became clear that you all have incredible insights and that we, as program staff, would benefit from your involvement in all aspects of programming. It also became clear that there is a strong desire to create a formal Alumni Association to give a greater voice to our alums and to better server ALL scholars, with a stronger emphasis on supporting college scholars.

Shortly after that meeting, we formed a transitional “Alumni Advisory Team” comprised of: Ronald Orozco, Alyssa Romero, Marilyn Cisneros, Mary Ann Maestas, Nancy Martinez, Janeth Santos, Anai Pulido, Yesenia Tarango and Saira Bustillos. The majority of these members met in December to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, as well as the process by which alumni may apply to serve in these roles. We are scheduled to meet next on February 6, and we intend to share more details with alums via our Facebook group soon after this meeting.

Our goal is to open up the application process in March and have all positions filled by July 1. While the leadership roles are limited to alums (college graduates), current college scholars will be invited to serve on committees. We feel that this will be a powerful professional development opportunity for everyone involved, and that the initiatives of the Alumni Association will have a positive impact on our program.

Scholar Recognition

Blanca Ortiz, a sophomore at Earlham College, was recently named a McNair Scholar.

"The Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program is designed to prepare students who have traditionally been underrepresented in graduate studies for the journey leading to the Ph.D."

Blanca is interested in Political Science and Peace and Global Studies, and she plans to pursue a career in law. 

Congratulations, Blanca!

Melissa De La Riva, a sophomore at Knox College, is now a member of Pi Beta Phi.
“The mission of Pi Beta Phi fraternity for women is to promote friendship, develop women of intellect and integrity, cultivate leadership potential and enrich lives through community service.”
Congratulations, Melissa!


Wendi Martinez recently transferred from Earlham College to UNM, where she plans to major in Biochemistry and Flamenco.

Wendi also joined our tutoring team at St. John’s College!

Welcome home, Wendi!


Magaly Ruiz, a senior at Northern New Mexico College, received the Ruby Palmlund and Leonard Maley Scholarship, a $5000 scholarship awarded to only 5-6 nursing students each year.

Magaly is finishing her last semester of the nursing program and recently received her Practical Nurse certificate.

Congratulations, Magaly!


Mariana Bustillos, a junior at UNM majoring in Statistics, was named to the Dean’s List for the Fall 2016 semester.

Congratulations Mariana!

Alondra (AJ) Granados, a freshman at Cornell College, made the Women’s Lacrosse team, and the nationally-ranked Cornell Mock Trial Team!

Way to go, AJ!


Natalia Garcia, a senior at UNM, was also named to the Dean’s List.
Natalia is majoring in Pre-Secondary Education, and she plans to begin teaching in Fall 2017.
Congratulations, Natalia!

Saudy Moreno, a sophomore at Loyola Marymount University, earned a 4.0 GPA for the Fall 2016 semester!

Saudy is majoring in Finance and Computer Information Systems.

Congratulations, Saudy!


Orlando Dominguez, a senior at UNM, also earned a 4.0 GPA last semester!

Orlando has been volunteering at a health clinic and he is excited to begin conducting research this semester.

Congratulations, Orlando!

Haydee Loya, a senior at UNM, was also named to the Dean’s list last semester, earning a 4.0 GPA!

Haydee is double majoring in Family Studies and Spanish, and she is excited to graduate in the Spring.

Congratulations, Haydee!


In Your Own Words

We recently asked several Scholars to submit reflections about some aspect of their college journeys. These scholars contributed thoughtful pieces for this newsletter, and we are including an excerpt of each with a link to our Simon Scholars blog to read more. Angelica Lopez, a freshman at St. Edward’s University, shared an account of her first semester away from home. Javier Venegas, a junior at UNM, contributed a piece from his own blog, and Joselin Perez, a junior at the University of Denver, wrote about her semester abroad in Spain! Please let us know if you are interested in contributing to the next newsletter; we love hearing and sharing your stories!

  Angelica Lopez

  St. Edward’s University


      I can feel it to my very core that I belong here. I am meant to be attending St. Edward’s University. I believe that that feeling is rare yet possible. Through orientation I was told again and again of all the opportunities that would present themselves to me. I was told to take on my world. The campus was familiar because of the size; it felt a bit like high school, where you often see familiar faces but also new ones.

The diversity astounded me, and I knew this is what I wanted. I gain new perspectives of the world around me, not only in the classroom but in everyday conversations with a friend from Africa, Afghanistan or even McAllen, Texas. St. Edward’s environment has shaped my learning in the best way possible. My classes range from around 14 to 20 people and hold a lot of discussion and creating connections to the world and people around us.

My first semester I took Intro to Social Work, and it has widened my eyes more than I can sometimes comprehend, as well as reaffirmed me that I want to be a social worker one day and make a difference. A class solely on black and white photography was challenging but fun and got me to explore Austin. This semester I learned and gained knowledge instead of memorizing facts as I did in high school. I almost feel as if high school was harder than college is for me at the moment. Back home I was overwhelmed with everyday classes, extracurricular activities, family obligations, and social events. My schedule was so tight and held so little room to even maneuver through it. Here I have so much more freedom and I think that has a lot to do with the responsibility of balancing my own time and being away from home.

In Austin I am here for school and that is my priority. I had to adjust to an entirely new routine because I am able to create a schedule of classes that allows time for me to work, volunteer and hang out with friends. It is not that I am doing less here than I was back home. I feel as though I can focus more on school and have the flexibility to accomplish all that I desire and I feel that I needed the new perspective of living in a different state to do that.

You can read more of Angelica's blog post here.

Javier Venegas

   Blogger, Scholar, and All Around Good Guy


     The cool thing about working with The Odyssey is the fact that I am able to write just about anything. I could write a rant on the elections, a poem, a short-story or even a compilations of funny GIFS that accurately represent how 2016 was for me. Usually, I'll write about societal issues because I'm what you would refer to as a "social justice junkie." If you ever read any of my posts, you'll see that a lot of what I write is based on my personal life. I do this simply because I find it easy to convey a message based on what I've learned from my experiences. Not to mention that it also helps me see a new light on previous experiences, so in a way I am helping myself grow as an individual. Also, I've realized that I receive more readers for articles that show some vulnerability which yields greater bonds and valuable conversations with people.

I've received some pretty good feedback on what I write about. I have a few friends that are nice enough to share my posts in an attempt to receive some more viewers. So far I haven't started a crazy Facebook debate where people end up hating each other but I'm not saying that's not a goal either. If you are a writer, I'd recommend looking into joining The Odyssey since it is an organization that is present in multiple universities across the nation. If you are a bit nervous to share any of your writing, start off slowly! Attend a slam poetry session or show your writing to a friend.

This is just a small bit from one of the articles that I wrote based on an experience I had while I was in Middle School:

To The Nurse That Told Me To Stop Speaking Spanish

Hello ma'am,

I don't know if that's your preferred way to be addressed by those younger than you, but I learned that it is a way to address women. I was in 6th grade when we had our lovely conversation. Except, it wasn't much of a conversation because the words you spoke didn't make sense to me at the time, so I couldn't answer whatever it was you were saying. Now, I understand that you're a school nurse and you must see children in your office quite often so you may not remember me and that's fine, but I certainly remember you.

Let me just remind you how everything went...

Joselin Perez

Studying Abroad in Madrid, Spain


      This past quarter, I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Madrid, Spain. The University of Denver has a great study abroad program with excursions that show the important history of Spain and classes related to different majors, especially mine (Business). Not only was this my first international flight but my first flight in general. You can only imagine my fear of traveling alone to a very unknown area. I had absolutely no idea how it would all work. Thankfully, all my friends that have travelled internationally and the study abroad program gave me helpful tips and were even there to see me off at the airport.


My flight was from Denver to Charlotte to Madrid. Upon arriving to the Adolfo Suarez-Madrid Barajas airport, I immediately fell in love. I was taken to the center of Madrid and from there, everyone left to their chosen housing. I chose to live in an apartment with two other girls. One of them is my friend and the other was also a student from DU that I had never met. Getting used to everything made the first week a bit difficult for me. Being far away from my family and dealing with the time difference were some of the factors but being in a new, beautiful place, you tend to have so much excitement that it doesn’t seem real yet.


The study abroad program helped see most of Spain with excursions and cultural activities. I went to the University of Nebrija and took classes that went towards my major like “Businesses in Spain” and other fun classes like, “Cine Español” which was all about the history and transition of Spain through movies. Before going into class, the International Studies Director of the school told us what to expect from the teachers here and how they differ from teachers back home.


Culture shock, the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture or way of life, is a major aspect of study abroad. Everyone experiences this but more so in the school. Even though we weren’t put directly with other Spanish students, you could still interact with them on campus. You must be open-minded and have some prior knowledge of their cultures in order to not let it affect your stay.

You can read more of Joselin's blog post here.
Mandy Chavez
  My Journey with SFI

Mandy Chavez, a graduate of South Valley Academy and Cornell College, has been an active participant in another initiative sponsored by the Simon Charitable Foundation called The Street Food Institute (SFI). "SFI is an entrepreneur-focused culinary program dedicated to inspiring the success of small, local businesses in New Mexico. SFI works with young adults and emerging culinary students and practitioners to develop the business and technical skills to realize their entrepreneurial dreams."

Mandy recently shared this story of her journey with SFI:

"When I started SFI I began with the educational component through the South Valley Economic Development Center. These classes focused on developing key culinary skills and providing information for local resources to help with all aspects of starting a business from financing to marketing. At the end of the course, you have the opportunity to take the National Restaurant Associations certification test in order to certify that you know proper safe food handling techniques. After you complete the courses, you may participate in the paid internship program which will provide you with hands on experience working on the food truck. Once I completed the internship I was lucky enough to be offered a paid position on the truck as a regular employee. This opportunity has been extremely humbling and gratifying. Every day has new challenges that we must over come. I am allowed the opportunity to use my creativity in a variety of ways from plating food to writing the menu. Every day I spend in the kitchen I am surrounded by people who know so much about food; I am always learning a new skill or a new recipe from these amazing people. At the end of every work shift I feel so much closer to accomplishing my dream of owning my own food truck some day."

To learn more about SFI, visit their website at or follow them on Facebook @streetfoodinstitute. Better yet, stop by the truck when Mandy is working and try it for yourself!
Copyright © 2017 Simon Scholars Program,  All rights reserved.
College and Alumni Newsletter
February 2017

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