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.