Growing up in Nigeria, I worked hard in school, hoping to attend my dream university. Little did I know that my dream would become a reality, with a little help from the Kennedy-King Memorial Scholarship Fund. Ltd.
With my circumstances at the time, I couldn't go to UCLA straight from High School. When people say that everything happens for a reason, my experience with Kennedy-King showed me just that. Attending LMC gave me the chance to excel academically to get into UCLA, but Kennedy King made that dream even more tangible than I could have ever imagined.
I graduated from LMC in 2019 with an Associate's degree in Liberal Arts: Math and Science and transferred into UCLA as a Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology Major. The journey from community college to UCLA was one I could not have accomplished alone, and I am blessed to have had the support of my family, my counselors, and my Kennedy-King Mentors.
The first time I learned about the Kennedy-King Scholarship was from my counselors, Melissa Pon and Nicole Trager, at LMC. The Lord knows that I doubted myself and thought that I shouldn't bother applying. I was scared, but they urged me to continue with the application, telling me it would be a missed opportunity if I did not follow through.
The transition from community college to UCLA was not the easiest. My Kennedy-King mentors, Mrs. Ellen and Mr. Brad were there to listen to whatever challenges I went through. They believe so much in me, and I could not be more grateful. Their love and guidance over the past few years has fueled me and has been instrumental to my success.
In my first year at UCLA, I lived in the dorms, and I was one of the community representatives for my peers on my floor, which gave me the voice to speak for those in my community that could not. This year I am now the Student National Medical Association, Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (SNMA MAPS) Liaison.
This student-run organization is dedicated to ensuring culturally sensitive medical education and services and increasing the number of African-American, Latino, and other students of color entering and completing medical school.
I do not think I would be where I am now, with such peace of mind, both academically and financially, if not for Kennedy-King. I will forever be grateful.
Luis Cortes is a 2019 Kennedy-King Chevron Scholar who began his collegiate journey at Diablo Valley College with an intense love of learning, particularly in the field of business and Finance.
"My experiences with financial insecurity have led me to want to learn all I can about finance and empower others to do the same."
Luis has since transferred to the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. His academic and career success is evident even as he completes his education at Haas.
In 2018 Luis spent six months as an Equity Research Intern at Penserra Partners in Orinda, CA., and the summer of 2019 as a Hedge Fund Summer Analyst with Kingsford Capital, focusing on quantitative and qualitative research. Currently, Luis is looking forward to his work as a Summer Analyst for the J.P. Morgan Investment Banking Technology Group.
His leadership qualities abound. Cortes was selected to represent the University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business at the Goldman Sachs 2nd Annual Hispanic and Latino Leadership Summit in New York City this past summer, and he has earned a spot at the prestigious Forbes Under 30 Summit, which featured some of the brightest scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs in our nation.
"None of this would be possible without the support of Kennedy-King"
Yessenia Aguilar, a 2018 Kennedy King Memorial College Scholarship Fund recipient, has kept a positive outlook regarding her academic journey, which started in nursing and has shifted to a promising career in Health Education.
Encouraged by her high school counselor, Yessenia applied for the Kennedy-King scholarship at the “last-minute.” Her dream was to pursue nursing, and she was awarded a Kennedy King scholarship as a Kaiser Permanente Scholar designated for recipients interested in health careers. While studying at Dominican College and volunteer work at The Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, Yessenia realized that a nurse's life was not ideal for her.
"Nursing is a fantastic career where you get to meet so many people and help save lives, but you also have to have thick skin. Nurses experience high levels of stress, long hours, death, sickness, and much more. Those are the things I never thought about, and I quickly realized nursing was not for me."
She worried about her scholarship and ability to keep it. Fortunately, her Kennedy-King mentors, Ellen Williams and Brad Macy stepped in to help her with the decision-making process getting her to an academic path that was health-related and in-line with her strengths and interests. Ms. Aguilar credits this relationship for successfully navigating through these difficult educational and career questions.
"I can honestly say my mentors have been my savior. I am incredibly grateful for the constant support and love I have received from both of them. Changing majors was difficult and stressful for me. I am grateful for both of my mentors who have guided me through every step."
Currently, Yessenia is a student at San Francisco State University studying Public Health (Health Education) with a minor in Women's Health. She anticipates graduating in 2021.
As part of her health education, Aguilar accepted an internship with Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a program dedicated to training future health workers. That experience was a bridge to her current position as a Disaster Service Worker at the Contra Costa Health Services, Office of the Director. Her role supports a team, ensuring PPE is available to essential community workers.
Yessenia is conflicted about working and studying in the face of Covid-19. While finding meaningful work, she faces challenges endemic to online learning and reduced in-person interaction with professors and peers. Regardless, she is grateful for the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling major and career. In agreement with the Kennedy-King philosophy of giving back to the community, Yessenia states:
"In five years, I see myself continuing my work with the county. After graduation, my goals are to work with families and communities who face health inequities and disparities."
"The Kennedy-King scholarship has allowed me to grow, explore, and learn more about myself. I appreciate the financial support and opportunity that has allowed me to focus on my academic journey once again. This scholarship has helped pay for tuition, decreasing financial stress. Thank you for believing in me when no one else did."
Yessenia at work as a Disaster Service Worker at Contra Costa Health Services
“The Kennedy-King Scholarship was instrumental in making it possible to afford UC Berkeley. It is the gift that keeps on giving today because of the opportunity to help others succeed as well.”
"I am doing well in my chosen career of providing services to troubled youth. I owe a debt of gratitude to Kennedy-King and its donors for making this possible."
“When Kennedy-King invested in me in 2012, it lit a fire under me that refuses to dissipate now. It was an affirmation that I was on the right trajectory.”