Beating the odds in college completion: Francisco’s story

At the Dell Scholars Program, I work every day to support low-income, first-generation students to college graduation. And as a low-income, first-generation student myself, I can relate to the challenges our Dell Scholars face. I know how important timely interventions, small nudges in the right direction, financial support and counseling all are in helping students to stay on track for graduation. I know that mentorship is key in helping students get to and through college because it was an integral part of my college journey.

The Dell Scholars Program works with hundreds of students a year from varying walks of life. They all have different challenges, but what they share is a passion and a determination to make it to the finish line and graduate from college.  I want to introduce you to one of those very students.

Meet Francisco Cernada

Francisco Cernada is a Dell Scholar from the class of 2016. He is from Houston, TX but much of his family resides in Guatemala.  He grew up living in a two-bedroom apartment with seven family members, sharing a room with his aunt and cousin.  He was the only one who had a stable income in the household.  Despite all of that, Francisco demonstrates tremendous resolve to improve his circumstances:

“Having to work has given me a relentless work ethic and the skills of a hardworking adult at a young age, both in and outside of school. I have done a lot to handle my own finances. I am a full-time student and part-time worker doing everything possible to survive and gain an education so I can be better off in the future and change the world.”

Francisco faced a multitude of other obstacles as well: language barriers, periodic homelessness and separated parents. As Francisco puts it, he faced an “identity crisis” by the time he was in high school. His classmates were different from him, and he felt he was going through his educational journey alone.  But the hardest obstacle by far was growing up without his father in his life:

“Coming to terms that I would grow up without a father has been the most difficult process of my life. I had to figure out a lot about adulthood on my own since my mom was always working. My brothers and I spent time finding our own passions and working hard to prove that we could do it, even without him around. Growing up without a father has been tough, but by no means defines me more than my willingness to prevail.”

It wasn’t until his high school counselor at YES Prep intervened that Francisco began thinking about what he could accomplish with a college degree.  Thanks to the support from his high school counselors and peers, Francisco graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class and gained acceptance to Harvard University, a dream school. He enrolled there this past August, and he is already making plans to attend law school after he graduates.

 “I am the first of my family to seriously consider obtaining a higher education. As a matter of fact, growing up, college wasn’t seen as an option. ‘Do it if you want, but you don’t have to.’ That mindset changed when I began attending YES Prep. Instead of considering if I would go to college, I was thinking about where I would go come senior year.”

His ultimate goal? To pursue a career that will allow him to serve as a voice for those who are walking in the shoes he once wore. For him, that could mean working at the U.S. Department of State or even becoming U.S. Press Secretary someday. He wants to give back, to make a difference.

Francisco is everything we look for in a Dell Scholar. He has grit, potential and ambition. He is unstoppable in his quest to not only make his own life better, but to improve the lives of others.

Making a difference

Francisco is everything we look for in a Dell Scholar. He has grit, potential and ambition. He is unstoppable in his quest to not only make his own life better, but to improve the lives of others.

And this is what drives me to do this work every day.  Because supporting students like Francisco to college graduation will change not only his life, it will transcend well beyond him to communities far and wide.  Could you imagine a world where someone like Francisco couldn’t beat the odds?  My job is to ensure we don’t have to.