It’s crazy to think that, no matter what, I’m going to get to go to college.
Johanna Hernandez has always planned to go to college. As a junior at Gunnison High School and a first-generation student, she grew up watching her parents work hard so she could have more opportunities than they had. She knew she wasn’t going to let their hard work go to waste. When she was selected for an $80,000 full-ride Geiman scholarship to Western, Hernandez could hardly believe that her dreams were becoming a reality right before her eyes.
“It’s crazy to think that, no matter what, I’m going to get to go to college,” said Hernandez.
Now in its inaugural year, the Geiman Junior Fellows program was created to provide “first-generation, financially eligible students, who show academic potential and motivation in middle school and throughout high school with activities and mentorship to increase awareness and access to institutions of higher education,” according to the website.
The Origination of the Scholarship and Mentorship Program
The Geiman Junior Fellows program was designed by the Geiman Fellows as their class project. For the program, the Geiman Fellows mentor high school students in the Gunnison Valley. On top of college prep and community-building sessions, students in the Junior program receive a full-ride scholarship to Western. Both the Geiman and Junior Geiman Fellows are sponsored by Dave Geiman, who modeled the program on one offered in his home state of Virginia by James Madison University.
“There’s a large number of students who would like to go to college but never considered it a possibility due to lack of exposure, parental experiences, or financial issues,” said Geiman.
Maria Alvarez, Director of the Geiman Junior Mentors, was a part of the Geiman Fellows group that first designed the program as a class project. Her dedication to the program is a testament to her own experience. As a first-generation student herself, Alvarez knows firsthand how hard it is to get to college.
The Impact of the Program
“The program is a scholarship program, but it’s also meant to prepare students for the college experience,” said Alvarez. “We want them to explore what college will look like for them and what their options are.”
Though the program offers a full-ride scholarship to Western, Junior Fellowship members are not required to attend Western as a part of the program. Instead, the Junior Mentors hope to encourage and prepare students to attend college regardless of where they decide to go.
Hernandez has lived in Gunnison her whole life and grew up in the Western community. She has early memories of attending Mountaineer sporting events and even touring the campus. Although she initially thought about leaving home for college, this opportunity to pursue a degree and a teaching certificate with no debt is leading her in a different direction.
“It’s such a relief that I get to depend on this program for my future,” said Hernandez. “I’ve always been a hard worker and a good student. I knew I was going to do what I needed to do to go to college. But having this program to support me financially is an incredibly rare opportunity I don’t think I could find anywhere else.”
Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney
Photo Credit: Courtesy