Santiago: Seizing a new responsibility

Scholar Ambassador

When Pathways to College recently selected him to join seven of his peers as a paid Scholar Ambassador, it represented, in one way, the 16-year-old junior’s journey from a shy, unassuming student into a leader.

Some people, when they get a new job, celebrate.

Santiago, though, cried.

But the tears he shed were for joy. When Pathways to College recently selected him to join seven of his peers as a paid Scholar Ambassador, it represented, in one way, the 16-year-old junior’s journey from a shy, unassuming student into a leader. In another way, as Santiago well knows, his appointment is humbling, and accountability and responsibility accompany his new role.

Scholar Ambassadors participate in monthly professional learning sessions to support their key roles in outreach, recruitment, welcoming new Scholars to the program and other leadership activities.

“I was surprised to be nominated,” Santiago says. “This is my first job. Now I feel like, ‘Hey! I made it!’”

There are a few reasons why Santiago felt as if he needed to keep a low profile when he started his high school career. He had recently arrived in the U.S. from Peru, his home country and was navigating a new country and a language he had only been studying at his former school. While there are many kids at his school whose first language is Spanish, as is Santiago’s, their roots are grounded in completely different parts of Latin America, such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Santiago, with his big career dreams and wanting to join a community of like-minded kids, learned where to turn.

“A new friend told me about Pathways,” Santiago begins.

“I had an interview for [the Scholar Ambassador program] and wanted to do my best, so I made sure I dressed for it and was on time. I thought it would be a regular after-school program, but Pathways is very different. It really wants to help get students into college. It has helped me make more friends and we’ve had good guest speakers.”

Biology and biochemistry are the two areas of study that most speak to Santiago’s heart. Since he was a toddler, he has had dreams of becoming a doctor.

“I had a serious medical condition – convulsions – when I was little and I almost died,” Santiago reflects. “When I went to the doctor’s when I was 4 or 5, I saw how they treated me, and I really loved that. I want to be a pediatrician and one day even open a children’s hospital.”

To reach that dream, Santiago plans on aiming high in his college applications. He already has completed a medical internship at Rutgers University, shadowing doctors and learning firsthand about crafting a bedside manner with patients, by building relationships with them. He says he wants to apply to a couple of other universities known for outstanding medical schools — Harvard and Oxford.

Santiago excels in math and science classes — at least in part, he says, because those two subjects don’t have the kind of spoken language barrier he has worked hard to surmount. He recognizes that some Scholars and others in the greater school community are challenged to gain full English proficiency and can benefit from his help.

“I help many of them with their English homework,” Santiago says. “Lots of Hispanic students want to study, but their parents also want them to work to help at home. I tell them, ‘Don’t be mad at your parents, but it’s also important to get good grades, to be able to go to college.’”

When Santiago isn’t helping others, he’s helping himself learn new pursuits, like playing electric guitar. He says he’s proud of many elements of Peruvian culture, from that country’s national soccer team and its food to his maternal grandparents who are of indigenous Inca heritage and speak Quechua, an Andean highlands native language that has survived Spanish conquest and colonization.

Santiago has made himself known for his compassionate leadership, both in Pathways sessions and around school.

“I’ve learned that I always need to be there for the other Scholars and have a good relationship with the counselors and teachers,” Santiago says. “It’s good to share ideas with the other Scholars and tell them not to be afraid to share their ideas, and to help them with setting and achieving their goals. If they need help, they can call or text me. I just tell them, ‘Just follow your dreams.’”