Spring Early College Academy students Jessica Selim, from left, and Ethan Posana are winners of the national Dell Scholars Program.
HOUSTON – May 26, 2017 – Two graduating seniors from Spring Early College Academy have been named among the 2017 winners of the national Dell Scholars Program. Ethan Posana and Jessica Selim join 401 other students from across the country who will benefit from the program’s support as they pursue their degrees. After a months-long application process that began in the fall of 2016, Posana and Selim learned in April that they had been selected to join the Dell Scholars “Class of 2017,” an honor that includes a $20,000 scholarship and a laptop computer, among other benefits.
Spring Early College Academy Principal Dr. Rene Garganta, who has seen other graduates from the school named Dell Scholars in previous years, noted that the program recognizes students who have overcome significant obstacles in pursuing their education. “The scholarship rewards kids who not only are deserving academically but have been through a high-quality college-readiness program,” Garganta said, “I think the effort that these students have put in – all the activities, community service, the leadership that they’ve exhibited over the past four years – gave them good resumes, so that they had a good chance to get the scholarship.”
A special feature of the Dell Scholars Program, which prioritizes applicants who have shown resilience in overcoming personal challenges and who have participated in college-readiness initiatives such as the AVID program offered at Spring Early College Academy, is its focus on building long-term supporting and networking relationships with program participants. Dell Scholars receive $20,000 in financial support toward college costs, along with a laptop computer and textbook credits, but added to this tangible support is an ongoing commitment from the program to see each participating student through to the completion of their bachelor’s degree. This added level of support includes continuing mentorship, financial counseling and other services to help ensure scholarship recipients have not only the funding but also the knowledge and practical know-how to guide them through to their goals.
Posana and Selim, who both completed their associate degrees while still in high school, will now enter university already well on the way toward their bachelor’s degrees, opening up additional possibilities for using the scholarship funds over the six-year eligibility period. Both have opted to continue their studies at schools in Texas. Posana will attend Texas State University in San Marcos, while Selim is headed to the University of Texas at Austin.
While both are approaching the transition to college – and to larger campuses and more-crowded classrooms – with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, Posana and Selim each credit their time at the academy with helping prepare them to make the most of the challenges and opportunities they may face during their college years.
“It’s such an opportunity,” Selim said in reflecting on her decision to attend the academy. “When I talk to other high schoolers about it, and get their perspective on how their high school career was versus mine, I really do realize just how amazing it is, because I can finish my bachelor’s degree in two years now rather than four, and through AVID I learned how to maintain good habits and be able to succeed in college.”
For Posana, meanwhile, his appreciation of the Early College approach developed over time. “In middle school, I wasn’t really serious about school,” he said. “You know, in middle school, you’re young. The main thing you want to do is go to the high school that you’re zoned to, go to the high school with your friends. But when Dr. Garganta came to my campus to speak about Early College, my parents were with me, and my mom said, ‘You’re going here.’ She basically forced me, but she told me, ‘I didn’t get a chance like this, and you’re going to appreciate it later.’ And I did appreciate it later, because a lot of kids don’t have this kind of opportunity. It’s such a small campus, you develop a family setting, and you really do know all the teachers really well. And they look out for you.”
Selim agrees. “I can honestly name everybody in our grade, their first and their last name,” she said. “You have a relationship with every single individual. And, with our class being so small, I feel like I can interact more during in-class discussions because I feel comfortable with everybody. That’s huge for me. Sometimes, I feel like I became more open, or more sociable, because of this school, because I feel comfortable here.”
Garganta added that the school’s size – with its more collegial campus layout and no large classes for students to hide out and disappear in – forces every student to participate and to grow, both academically and personally. “I think the size of the student body allows more people to be leaders,” he said. “I think it allows more people to develop. In a smaller school, there are so many opportunities. The number of kids who are involved in leadership activities is naturally going to be higher. I think that benefits the kids.”
Both Posana and Selim plan to be on-call next year to help counsel and encourage fellow Early College students as they navigate the school-choice and scholarship options available to them.
“We were lucky enough to have previous Dell Scholar winners who we have known throughout our high school careers,” said Selim. “I knew I could always contact them for any advice they could give me about what they did or how they presented their essays and applications. That was quite helpful.”
“In one of the scholarship orientations,” said Posana, “they told us, ‘Once a Dell Scholar, always a Dell Scholar.’ And they told us, ‘You’re welcome to come, even after college, and ask us for advice.’” For Posana and Selim, extending that same spirit of support to their Spring ISD classmates makes perfect sense.
“It’s more than just a scholarship,” Selim said. “It’s supposed to be a support system.”
Though still deciding on long-term career goals, both plan to make the most of that support system through their college years, into potential graduate studies and beyond.
Established in 1999 and headquartered in Austin, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation supports youth-related causes in areas including public education, health and wellness, and urban poverty. Since its inception, the foundation has contributed more than $1 billion to aid nonprofit organizations in the United States, India and South Africa, including $76 million in college scholarships.