Scholar Snapshot

Building the Bridge: How Cain Yepez Pays It Forward

By Ishani Kejriwal, UChicago Class of 2019

Sometimes, you meet people that inspire you to inspire others. That is exactly how I felt when talking to Cain Yepez, a model Scholar in the class of 2018. He was boyish, with a charming smile and floppy brown hair, and spoke eloquently, in a way I wouldn’t expect from a student his age. He was confident and had a pitch ready for me, showing me that he was prepared to tell me about this achievement that he was so proud of and that he really held close.

His latest endeavor, known as the Bridge Tutoring Program, aims to bridge (ha-ha!) the education gap in some South Side communities. As a resident of Garfield Ridge, a neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago, and someone who was heading to be a first-generation college student, Cain saw a need for additional educational support at his neighborhood schools. Even though he goes to the selective enrollment school Jones College Prep now, he started out his freshman year in his neighborhood school, Kennedy High School, where he became familiar with the needs of his community. Bridge Tutoring is a peer-to-peer elementary school and high school program that links tutors and tutees from the same neighborhood. They select tutors who are in the top 10% of their class or in National Honor Society in order to secure high quality instruction and assistance, and they keep the ratio of tutor to tutee as 1:2, ensuring that the students gain the most personalized experience possible. When I asked how large the program was, Cain proudly stated that there were 150 tutors and 300 tutees across 5 different neighborhoods, but he explained that the program had plans to expand in the upcoming school year. He expressed a deep commitment to the program, explaining that the tutors in the program weren’t just tutors but also life coaches, ready to guide students through the ups and downs of the educational system. He told me this program was important to him because he wished he had something similar in his youth. He told me he lives by the saying “be the person you needed” and that influences his drive to make the program as beneficial as possible.

Cain is the CFO of his organization, and I, shamefully, had to ask him to find out that meant Chief Financial Officer. As the program expands, he, understandably, needs more funds to keep the program going. His website bridgetutoring.org is currently being run by money that he is paying out of pocket, and as the demand for the program expands, so does the demand for supplies. He wants to fundraise for whiteboards, folders and other supplies, and to reward the tutors who put in a lot of emotional and physical labor without so much as a pizza party or certificate. Luckily, one resource that Cain didn’t have to pay for was the Collegiate Scholars Program, which he never intended to apply to. He told me that he originally threw the flyer away because he didn’t think he could get in, only to realize that if he never tried, he definitely wasn’t going to get in, which ended up working out for him. Although Collegiate Scholars has helped him in many ways, one of the most profound resources Cain and his team got access to was Abel himself. Cain gushed about how integral Abel was to the success of Bridge Tutoring, explaining that Abel taught him how to manage finances, set up and manage a website and donation page, and create goals for the future. He made it clear to me that Collegiate Scholars was what gave him the confidence to

Cain (pictured in white hat) enjoys ice skating with friends.

 give back to the community. By having the opportunity to participate in an educational nonprofit throughout high school, he knew he could give back to his community, and other communities similar to his, by starting his own educational non-profit.

After he left, I called my parents and expressed to them how impressed I was at a senior in high school already doing so much for his community. Cain demonstrates, in the best way, the importance of paying it forward, and the importance of being the change you want to see in the world. If you would like to support Cain’s cause or want more information, please visit bridgetutoring.org.

Victor Scotti: CSP gave him exposure and structure he needed for college

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

By Calmetta Coleman

Seven years after Victor Scotti graduated from high school, three things still stand out for him about his experience in the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program. The first, and perhaps most significant, is the exposure the program gave him to other cultures.

Along with academic preparation, the three-year college readiness program offers enrichment activities that promote cultural awareness, as well as civic engagement and leadership.

As an African-American student at Morgan Park High School on Chicago’s South Side, Scotti had grown up and attended school primarily with people who were like him and his family. Through Collegiate Scholars, he met other high school students, college students, and UChicago faculty and staff who were from different backgrounds.

“Because Collegiate Scholars was not as homogenous as my home environment, it helped prepare me for the larger world and more diverse experiences,” says the 25-year-old Scotti, who took part in the program from 2006 to 2009.

“One event I will always remember is a Ramadan dinner that Collegiate Scholars were invited to attend. I took my mother, and it was just an amazing experience,” Scotti, a Christian, says of the Muslim observance. “I always enjoyed the cultural events, but I can’t say that I completely understood the value of them then. I realize now that it wasn’t just entertainment. I was really expanding my purview and my perspectives and becoming a more open and affirming person.”

The second thing that stands out is the college coursework. During the summer, Collegiate Scholars live in residence halls on campus and take classes led by UChicago faculty. Scotti took two college-level psychology courses.

“I was nervous, but it was an excellent opportunity and I ended up doing well,” he recalls. “I was even able to get credit for at least one of the courses when I actually went off to college.”

The third standout experience is what Scotti calls a college boot camp that included tours of East Coast colleges and coaching on completing applications for admission and financial aid.

“I knew that I was going to college,” says Scotti, whose parents and grandparents are college educated. “What Collegiate Scholars did was help me put some structure around the process of applying and getting accepted. We had to be extremely organized.”

He adds, “We wrote our whole personal statement so that it was ready to go. I went into my senior year of high school knowing that most of the application was done.”

It was also through Collegiate Scholars that Scotti first learned about the University of Pennsylvania and had the opportunity to visit the school’s campus.

“One thing I really valued was the introduction to colleges outside of ones I had been thinking about,” says Scotti, who applied and was accepted to UPenn, where he majored in sociology. “Collegiate Scholars provided my first touch point to UPenn, and if it wasn’t for the program, I probably would not have gone there.”

After graduating from college in 2013, Scotti now lives in New York and works as a diversity engagement specialist in the People Operations department for Google.  He says both his college education and his experiences as a Collegiate Scholar have been helpful in helping him understand and work with different groups of people.

Scotti keeps in touch with the Collegiate Scholars staff at UChicago and with friends he made through the program. This has been especially important, he says, because after he left Chicago to attend college, he realized that some people had negative perceptions of students who attended public schools in the city.

“Knowing that I have this cohort of Chicago Public Schools students whom I got to know through Collegiate Scholars and who are doing impressive things, I think is amazing,” Scotti says, “I’m really proud of that.”

Luis Granja: Collegiate Scholars opened my horizons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Profile by: Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

As a fourth grader, Luis Granja tested into the gifted program at Decatur Classical School in the West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. The school was far from the Irving Park neighborhood where he lived in many ways.

“It was a complete change in environment,” recalls Granja, who went from going to a predominantly Hispanic school where everything was familiar to an environment where he didn’t feel connected to anything. “I was living in two worlds. I didn’t play outside with kids in my neighborhood, but I didn’t feel like I fit in at Decatur. I wasn’t one of the best students anymore but I was happy to be there, and I learned to adapt.”

His experience in elementary school and later at Northside College Preparatory High School, which he also tested into, helped Granja appreciate the Collegiate Scholars Program at the University of Chicago.

“The Collegiate Scholars Program made me feel like I could pursue my academic interests with kids from a similar background. We didn’t have everything but we were willing to work hard just to get access to opportunities,” says Granja, who is now a third-year student in the College at UChicago.

Working hard and seizing opportunities seem to be life themes for Granja, who was born in Ecuador.  His mother brought him back to Chicago, where she had once lived, when he was five years old. “She wanted me to have the same advantages as my sister who had been born here,” he says.

Granja grew up in a multi-generational house where he pitched in to keep the household running.  He took that same work ethic to Northside College Prep, where he often sought out new options on his own. “I would just look at the lists of opportunities at the counselor’s office every week. I saw the Collegiate Scholars Program notice, and it said to sign up for an information session at the University of Chicago,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I was open to anything.”

Granja didn’t really know much about UChicago, even though he had visited the campus once for a capoeira demonstration. After the information session, he knew that it was an important decision to join the CSP. “It opened my horizons to do things I never imagined, like taking classes with college professors and conducting laboratory research,” says Granja, who participated in the program from 2010-2013.

Granja says the program also gave him more confidence. “I wasn’t raised to demand certain things or to understand what I wanted from institutions. I didn’t know what questions to ask,” Granja says. “CSP told us what questions to ask to find out what was available, and that opened doors. It’s like you don’t know a lemon has juice unless you squeeze it.”

During his first summer as a Collegiate Scholar, Granja took classes in advanced mathematics and humanities. The next summer, he applied and was accepted into an organic chemistry research program. “I was treated like one of the researchers. I wasn’t just a high school student,” he recalls.

His experience doing research inspired Luis to major in pre-med and apply to college using the Questbridge early admission process. Questbridge matches students with full scholarships and Granja was admitted to UChicago, his first choice.

After working for an obstetrician in a family planning clinic last summer, Granja realized how important social sciences are to medicine and switched his major to Comparative Human Development, which is an interdisciplinary program of psychology, sociology and anthropology. He is interested in therapy and how trauma, stress, and economic factors affect and relate to mental health.

Outside the classroom, Granja is involved with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Living Hope Church in Woodlawn, where he volunteers in an after-school enrichment program for elementary students. Soon to be a first-generation college graduate, Luis attributes most of his success to his experience in the Collegiate Scholars Program.

“If I hadn’t been involved in CSP, it would have probably taken another generation for anyone in my family to go to a college like this,” he says.