This year, the Heffernan Foundation began a partnership with College Track, a national organization that helps students in underserved communities attend college. College Track is a free program that follows students from 9th grade through college graduation to provide academic support, leadership training, advising, and access to scholarships.
Each year, the Heffernan Foundation will pick one student from the program to receive a four year, $25,000 per year scholarship to assist in their tuition and other costs associated with attending a university. By 2018, four students will each be receiving this scholarship, for a total of $100,000 per year in scholarship donations, to be continued through the foreseeable future.
Vanesa Lara, a student of Oakland Technical High School and of College Track Oakland’s program, was chosen as the very first recipient of this scholarship. We recently sat down with Vanesa shortly before her departure for her freshman year of college at UC Merced to find out more about the program and what this scholarship means for her.
Previously, Vanesa was unsure if she would attend college, worried about the financial burden to her single mother, who raised her along with three siblings. That changed after College Track did a presentation to Vanesa’s 8th grade class, when Vanesa and her classmates learned about the College Track program and saw opportunity. “It kind of became a competition among my friends,” joked Vanesa. Eleven students applied, and six from her class were accepted into the program, Vanesa, of course, being one of them.
The program provided Vanesa with ACT prep, admission essay workshops, lists of college requirements, and tutoring throughout high school. It features a showcase at the end of each semester for parents and members of the community, and encourages students to sign up for a “fun” class like guitar, yoga, poetry and lyrics, and even photography as well as participating in internships. The program also sets strict and early deadlines for college applications, a factor that Vanesa says helped her. “Without College Track, I probably wouldn’t have applied to 19 schools,” she said.
She was also ready to choose her major, Management and Business Economics, after her junior year in high school. She took Algebra 2 with Financial Application where she learned to do taxes, and completed an internship that summer doing marketing for a business woman who owned a pickling company—and yes, she learned to pickle! “From there I was like, I can really see myself doing this,” Vanesa explained. “Junior year was really tough,” she added, “but my mom would say how proud she was. It really makes it worthwhile.”
When asked what impact the program and the Heffernan Foundation scholarship had on her family, Vanesa brought up her 15 year old brother. He was just accepted to College Track as a sophomore after Vanesa noticed he was struggling and encouraged him to apply: “I wanted my siblings to know that they can do it. Coming from our background, it’s hard work, but once you start receiving those letters, it’s all worth it.”
Not only did Vanesa encourage her brother to work towards a college education, but she is also passionate about helping other students achieve this goal, something that resonated with Heffernan Foundation Director Michelle Lonaker. For the past three years, Vanesa has volunteered at GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that informs the community of elections and policies that affect the public school system, ensuring students receive the education they deserve.
She also volunteers at College Track, helping with the Academic Summer Advancement Program (“ASAP”) for incoming freshmen to prepare them for high school and introduce them to the College Track program. “It’s really nice to share my experience with the students,” said Vanesa. “And I love the staff members. After 4 years, you get to know them on a personal level.” She also volunteered at a nearby elementary school, where she helped a 4th grade class learning math.
So why UC Merced? “A lot of people were going to UCSC, my other top choice, so I wanted to branch out. It’s close enough, but not too close.” While Vanesa has never been away from her family, she was looking forward to meeting new people and trying out new activities. She even made a friend at orientation, and they signed up for taekwondo together.
The Heffernan Foundation is so happy to provide Vanesa with an opportunity to enjoy her college years without worrying about the financial burden. She has shown hard work, determination, and an affinity for helping others achieve their goals of attending college and excelling in school. We look forward to following Vanesa’s success at UC Merced and beyond, and to welcoming future students from College Track into our scholarship program. Congratulations, Vanesa!
A press release about The Heffernan Foundation’s new scholarship program with College Track can be found here.