When one of Yadah’s college professors learned that scholarships facilitated through the Community Foundation made her attendance at the University of Michigan possible, he sent us a thank you note. Here’s her success story, in her own words, in the hopes that it will inspire others to succeed as she has.
Yadah received four scholarships through the Community Foundation: the Holland/Zeeland Promise Scholarship, the Brooks Family Minority Scholarship, the Fifth Third Bank Minority Scholarship, and the Jack and Thelma Leenhouts Scholarship.
How have your scholarship awards helped you?
Coming from a low income family, and being a first generation college student, it would have been unrealistic to think that I’d be able to attend college without financial support. Scholarships and financial aid made attending college both a possibility and a reality.
People that I had never met before chose to invest in me, helping me to accomplish my goals.
I was then able to meet the donors of my scholarships at the scholarship reception, and it meant even more to learn about where the support was coming from. I know it’s hard to get scholarships, and I feel really fortunate that I was able to have been awarded so many. I really feel the support of the community. It’s a great feeling to know that the community is supporting me in my endeavors, helping me to succeed.
You’re pursuing a Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN) / Biochemistry degree at the University of Michigan. How did you choose the medical field?
I’ve witnessed many illnesses around me, and I can relate to how so many people suffer as their loved ones suffer from illness, and I want to help alleviate that. I’m skilled in science and I enjoy it. It’s a great way to do something that I love, something that I’m good at, and at the same time be able to help people and make a difference in the world.
Tell us about wanting to make a difference in the world and why you enjoy giving back.
So many people have helped me grow to be the individual that I am today. I am very aware of how others giving back has benefited me. I like giving back because when you see the impact you’ve had on a person’s life for the better, it makes you feel good to know that you were able to help someone…even if it’s just one person, it’s so important.
You hear the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it does, but I feel like it’s not just the village that needs to help the children, but the children need to help too. We all need to help each other advance.
Where did you first learn the value of community service and giving back?
My father was very involved in our neighborhood committees. He was always helping with yard work for elderly residents, neighborhood watches, that sort of stuff. Growing up, I saw him helping others out, and that’s where I first learned about giving back because you genuinely want to help others. Then, as I got older, Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP) expanded that concept for me.
As a high school student, Yadah was part of the National Honor Society, Student Leaders Initiating Change, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, LAUP Adelante and Mas Adelante, Destination Education, and also held various roles in her church.
You’ve held quite a few leadership roles since a very young age.
Why is leadership important to you?
The LAUP Adelante and Mas Adelante programs taught me about being a servant leader. The programs emphasized the importance of giving back. I learned that it’s important to give back and be a leader, because community members are investing time teaching youth and helping us learn and grow, so we should return the favor… not out of obligation, but helping because you want to make a difference and make things better.
I could see how the programs I was involved in were impacting me, and I want to be able to impact other students and people in any way that I can. My leadership roles taught me about responsibility, time management, organization, and all of that translated into helping me succeed in college.
LAUP taught me how to be a highly effective teen, how good habits can translate to success in life. I’ve learned to be proactive and to advocate for myself. I used to be shy and timid, and because of that, going into high school, I was discouraged from taking Honors and Advanced Placement courses. At the time, I didn’t argue or question that recommendation.
When did you decide that you wanted to go to college?
I became interested in the notion of college during my freshman year. One of my teachers saw that I was a dedicated student submitting quality work, and asked me about my goals and encouraged me to take the Honors and AP courses. With my teacher’s help and what I’d learned in the LAUP program, I realized that if I wanted a career in science, I would need to take those harder courses. I dreamed of going to college, and if I wanted to get in, I needed to advocate for myself to accomplish my goals.
I’m a first generation college student — my mother and father never went to college. Going to college never really came up when I was growing up. I didn’t know about FAFSA or financial aid. Through my roles with the Destination Education (DE) Youth Advisory Board and LAUP, I learned a lot about the college application process. At DE, we focused on making people aware that there were resources out there to help. We promoted college awareness, especially for minority students from low-income families. We explored different options for college, and we went over the requirements for being accepted.
In addition to your coursework, what types of activities were you involved in during your first year of college?
I participated in K-grams, which is like a pen pal program. We’re paired with local elementary students. We send the students a letter monthly and then they send one back. It provides them a positive role model and builds a relationship between college and elementary students, encouraging them to pursue post-secondary education. I joined the Northwood Community Council where I live. We plan multicultural and diverse programs and events to help build relationships between residents and to try to make campus seem a little smaller. Another organization I’m involved in is the Red Shoe Crew, which is part of the Ronald McDonald Charity House that helps fund raise for families of ill children receiving care. We also work directly with the families –we cook them dinner, make them gifts, and have holiday events for them.
What have you learned through your college experience? What advice do you have for high school students considering college?
I think many students worry that they need to know exactly what they want to do before they start college. That’s not really true. I came in thinking that I wanted to major in biochemistry, and now I am majoring in neuroscience and minoring in biochemistry, and I may double major in sociology because I’ve learned its implications on the medical field. As you take classes, you grow more as an individual and gain more interest and insight. You learn about different perspectives — even if you arrive with a set idea, chances are it might change a little.
U of M is very diverse, but I was surprised to find that there weren’t a lot of Hispanic students. It was a struggle at first to get accustomed to that and put myself out there and get involved. I learned that even if people don’t look like you, trying to share your culture with them is a nice way to connect. It’s important to me to still be able to hold on to my culture, because it’s a part of who I am.
Another piece of advice I would give is to believe in yourself. Some of the common ideas about college requirements are not always true. If your ACT score is lower than the required score, apply anyway. Colleges look at your personal average, they look for what sets you apart. They look at student applicants as a whole. They factor in activities, courses taken, how students divide their time during their high school years — it’s not entirely based on your grades and scores. I encourage students to apply early on. I did the early decision application, and that gives you an advantage over students that apply late.
Do you think you made the right choice in going to college?
Absolutely. I’ve had so many opportunities given to me, and I’ve built relationships with faculty and students. I’ve experienced independence and grown more as a person academically and in general. Being around focused, dedicated, passionate people- regardless of what they teach or study- has a spillover effect that makes you excited to pursue your own passions.