Scholar Stories

Anhthy Nguyen – University of Florida Foundation Active Learning Program’s First Generation Student Scholarship Program, Gainesville, Florida

My name is Anhthy Nguyen, and I am a rising third-year student at the University of Florida majoring in health science with a minor in health disparities on a pre-med track. This past year I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Active Learning Program (ALP) as well as being a recipient of the ALP First-Generation Student Scholarship. In connection with ALP, I participated in the Uncovering Parasite Biodiversity research project under the supervision of Dr. Nick Keiser here at UF.

With over 48,000 different types of species of spiders around the world, it is clear that they play a significant role within our ecosystems. However, with that being said, there is very little-known knowledge about the parasites that infect these spiders. In the Uncovering Parasite Biodiversity project, our focus was primarily based on animal behavior that is affected by infectious-diseases through host-parasite systems such as spiders, ants, or flies. This research project offered a wide range of new experiences for me. My main responsibilities included documenting, digitalizing, collecting, and DNA sequencing spider parasite pairs into our Spider Parasite Digital Research Collection (SPDR). This work allowed new data and information to become more accessible to the public. I took a lot of pride in the work that I did for this project because it granted me the opportunity to get first-hand experience with biological and molecular research. The program also allowed me to utilize collaboration with my fellow researchers. Working with other students really advanced the experience and allowed me to understand what it is like working with a research team and learning the skills that go along with working with others such as communication and organization.

The financial support for this program allowed me to dedicate more time to the project and made me more motivated for the work. Beyond just being able to focus on this research project, it also alleviated any stress or burden that allowed me to focus more on my schoolwork altogether. As a first-generation student I felt very appreciative of this program.

Madeleine Bourgeois – Jefferson Dollars for Scholars Scholarship Program, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana

I cannot express enough gratitude for the impact the Bruce J. Heim Foundation scholarship had on my experience at school for the last four years. I am currently back in Texas finishing up my last three hours of school! I can’t believe I will be graduating in May.

I will be graduating with a 4.0 GPA and a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre with a minor in Mass Communications. (I added the mass communication major my sophomore year due to the dual-enrollment credit hours I earned while in high school.) Throughout my time at Texas State, I have been in five mainstage musicals — The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Little Women, Guys and Dolls, Beehive, and HAIR — and will be ending my senior year playing the lead in Seussical! Additionally, I am a member of the Honors College, manage the Musical Theatre Program’s social media, and work full time as a bridal stylist at a wedding shop close to campus. In the upcoming weeks, I will be recording footage to send to casting agents and producers in New York City to begin my professional career as an actress! I plan to move to Manhattan in the Fall of 2022.

When COVID-19 hit, I was completely devastated (as most were.) That summer, I was set to perform at Tulane Summer Lyric and work summer camp at St. Martin’s Episcopal School. When both of those jobs were cancelled due to the pandemic, I found myself applying for jobs in the New Orleans area. It was imperative I found a job since I have completely paid for my college education on my own. I ended up applying and being hired at Bliss Bridal, a bridal boutique on Magazine Street. I worked as a bridal stylist and quickly became one of the top sellers. Throughout the last two years, I have worked as a bridal stylist during the summer and Christmas holidays. In my time at Bliss, I was also introduced to the world of modeling, and had the opportunity to model bridal gowns for the company and their designers on location in New Orleans, Mississippi, Fairhope, and Gulf Shores. Additionally, I can now be seen as the face of the company at bridal conventions in the Southeast. It was an amazing opportunity that arose amidst a very difficult time, and I could not be more thankful for finding another passion of mine!

Rousemary Aguilar Estrada – Education Foundation of Sarasota County STRIVE recipient, Sarasota, Florida

Before beginning her freshman year in high school, Rousemary Aguilar Estrada made the difficult decision to move from Mexico City to Florida so she could pursue her education in the U.S. While she understood the opportunities this move afforded her, she still struggled. Acculturation was difficult, and she had to make new friends at the same time as she learned a new language.

But Rousemary was determined to succeed, and at North Port High School she worked hard to excel academically while engaging in the school community. She reached out to her teachers and made friends. She enrolled in the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program and took AP courses. She started a UnidosNow club at her school. She found a job.

But during her senior year in high school, Rousemary worried about how she would pursue a business degree in college. Money has always been tight for Rousemary and her family, and the pandemic had exacerbated it. She felt immense pressure. She wanted to attend college but didn’t want to burden her parents.

Rousemary found the support she needed and developed a plan for application to schools and for finding scholarship assistance.  She applied to eight schools, including her dream school, The University of Florida and fifteen scholarships!

Rousemary’s hard work and planning paid off. She was accepted to all eight schools—including her dream. She also learned that she was a STRIVE Award recipient, identified as a student who had overcome immense challenges to succeed. As a STRIVE recipient, she received a check for $1,000 to help fund her education. She would go on to earn eight of the fifteen scholarships for which she applied.  These scholarships provided much needed financial support that would make education after high school possible. But they also provided confidence. They signaled the community’s faith in Rousemary—and she is humbled and grateful for the support.

Joanne Wang – Heithoff-Brody High School Scholars Program at the Salk Institute

I walked away from the Heithoff-Brody High School Summer Scholars program with work and people skills that will help me succeed in a professional environment, and relationships that will last beyond my time in the lab. As I head into college, I feel more prepared than ever to pursue a career in STEM as I know my limits are only as far as I set them.

Anita Zahiri – Benjamin Franklin High School – Regeneron ISEF Finalist-Greater New Orleans Science and Engineering Fair

Participating in the Greater New Orleans Science and Engineering Fair was an incredibly rewarding and formative experience that has empowered me to further explore the field of healthcare and my passion for medical research. I have met so many supportive mentors throughout this process and got the opportunity to attend the International Science and Engineering Fair as an ISEF Finalist, where I got to interact with global STEM leaders and connect with other finalists from around the world with diverse perspectives and unique projects. As an aspiring physician and medical researcher, these experiences have provided me with valuable exposure to the field of medicine, and I’m so thankful for the Bruce J. Heim Foundation’s support towards my future aspirations.

Trent Diamanti – Summer Stretch at the University of Washington;  the Center for Talented Youth at Loyola Marymount University

I grew up in a rural area and attended a small and underfunded public school where my love of learning often left me feeling like an outsider who would never fit in. Inspired by a close friend who attended Gifted & Talented summer programs, I took the SAT at age 14 and applied to Summer Stretch at the University of Washington and the Center for Talented Youth at Loyola Marymount University. My parents were of modest means, but thanks to generous scholarships from the Bruce J. Heim Foundation, I was able to attend both. Not only were those summers formative for me intellectually, but socially they were invaluable – transcendent even. I had never felt so understood, so accepted, and so comfortable in all my life. Almost twenty years later I am extremely grateful to the Foundation for helping make possible one of the most important developmental experiences of my life.

Ravdeep Warar – Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest LA

I remember thinking while applying for the BRF SMART program that I would not get to do as much hands-on research and experimentation as graduate students do or even postdoctoral fellows. I imagined that I would get to be exposed to a laboratory environment, learn from brilliant people, and eventually assist on a project. I am glad to say that my expectations were exceeded. Ever since I stepped foot in the lab, my colleagues have treated me as their equal and no less. They have taught me all I needed to know in order to be independent and succeed in the lab. After my training wheels came off, I started designing and running all of my experiments entirely on my own. I’m in charge of choosing what I want to test, when I want to run my experiments, and analyzing my own data. I have truly been able to try out life as a researcher because of the SMART program.

The biggest take away I have from my time in the lab during the summer is how much my mind has expanded in terms of understanding science. Researching in a lab is a vastly different experience from trying to find a chemical reaction between copper and silver nitrate in a high school chemistry lab. Researching in a lab brings my textbook knowledge to life, allows me to work with brilliant colleagues, and gives me the ability to be involved with something impactful. I am so grateful to the SMART program and the Bruce J. Heim Foundation for giving me this opportunity.

Jonnae Sylvester – Einstein Charter HS

With me not being a very open person I wasn’t willing to bond with my group and make relationships in 6 days—but I did — and if it wasn’t for LYS I most likely wouldn’t be ready to meet new people and share experiences.

Kraig Oramus – Ben Franklin HS – Robotics Team

I learned that to be a leader you need to not only better yourself, but the people around you too. I met a lot of different people at LYS and it really brought a lot of things into perspective for me as a leader and person in general.

Jared Shelton – Warren Easton HS – Robotics Team

LYS is truly an experience that I hope everyone is to have because it opens you up to so many opportunities to make friends, learn lessons, and fail without judgment. It’s that idea that you can fail and learn from it that I love about LYS. Although I’m a senior and won’t be able to return as a delegate, I hope to be given the opportunity to return as a JC and share what I’ve learned to future delegates.

Miracle Smith – Booker T. Washington HS

Ok so LYS was one of the best experiences of my life. Since I first arrived there, they were welcoming and always tried to make me feel included. All I felt were good vibes- no bad energy – at all! I can’t wait to go back next year for my last year.