Gryssel Montagner

On June 13, 2004, I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school and go on to college. Coming from a low-income family and having attended a high school where many of my classmates were also low-income and the school had very few resources, it was very challenging to transition from high school to college; I just did not have the academic background to prepare me for college-level work. It is still challenging today, and there have been many times that I wanted to stop. However, I always remember that I have a goal, and this goal is to break a cycle of my family living in poverty and having to work hard to merely get by. I do not want to always have to rely on others, and I want to be able to give back to my community.

I feel very strongly about my culture and traditions that my family has passed on to me, and I look forward to passing them to the future generations. But, I feel that I must get a good education in order to do so. I plan to continue helping my community, targeting the children that need encouragement to stay in school. To keep our culture alive, we must be successful in school and then in our professions. Today, there are too few true Latino and African-American leaders that can really make an impact on society. We need representation and leadership to guide us to success. I believe that by obtaining an education, I can be part of a new generation of powerful and prominent leaders that can begin helping our communities become places of pride and self-worth.

By helping students like me to succeed, the Urban Health Program is increasing the number of leaders in the African American and Latino communities. UHP's Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP) has given me, and several other students like me, an opportunity to do advanced research, work closely with research professors, and do high-level research presentations. Opportunities like this have already made me a better student and helped to prepare me for graduate school.

But maybe even more importantly, UHP has offered me many opportunities to develop my leadership skills, and has taught me the importance of giving back to the community. I've spent two years working with the NBC5/Telemundo homework hotline, helping students from kindergarten to twelfth grade with their homework via the telephone. This is a very important assistance for the Latino community in Chicago, since many parents do not speak English and are not able to aid their kids with homework. And, it is important to me because I can see, first hand, that my education can make a big difference in my community.

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