Yefri Figueroa grew up in Golden Gate city. His mother and father emigrated here from Honduras in search of better lives for themselves and for their young children.
His family gave up much to come to this country, including his mother’s career as a pharmacist. “My mom has always expressed the importance of education to my family,” explains Yefri, “she attended university in Honduras, but was unable to use her degree in pharmacy when she moved here. My dad only completed high school. My parents always pushed me to study as much as possible in an effort to gain the most from my education. My mother often tells me that is why she and my father came here, to give me more opportunity than they had, and that education is the path to opportunity.”
Even in a country as promising as America, the path to prosperity is often filled with setbacks, especially for families with low-income. “From language barriers, to poverty, to low education levels, there are so many hurdles that each family in Golden Gate must overcome in order to succeed,” comments Yefri. “My mom was working two jobs that had her gone from midafternoon to early morning, and my Dad was working grueling floor installation jobs. Often times, I was home alone having to fend for myself, always trying to study and do work around the house to help my parents. In this situation, which is representative of many in Golden Gate, there is not always time or ability for families and parents to be able to come together and help their children study and prepare for school. This is where Grace Place stepped in.”
Yefri was an AP Leader in Grace Place’s college access program last year. In the AP Leadership program he received guidance through the college application process, was assisted in identifying scholarships, visited college campuses, attended college knowledge workshops and was paired with a mentor.
“Grace Place is that hand up that helps you with homework and that pushes you to succeed. For me personally, Grace Place was the nudge in my side that kept me on track and kept me on my toes. Grace Place was a big factor in my success as a senior,” remarks Yefri.
When Yefri graduated Golden Gate High School in May 2016 as the class valedictorian, he would have been the last one to have guessed he wouldn’t be attending college that fall. After being waitlisted at his dream school, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Yefri decided to accept a competitive internship in New York City and defer college for a year. When funding for the internship fell through at the last moment Yefri was devastated. “I felt like nothing was going right for me after all the hard work I’d put in. I didn’t want to be seen as the valedictorian that wasn’t going to college.”
When Grace Place staff heard about Yefri’s internship falling through, they reached out. “I was so upset for Yefri when I heard. He worked so hard and overcame so much. I didn’t want to see him lose his motivation, so we asked if he’d like to work with us for a year until he reapplied for colleges,” said Tom Powers, Director of School Age Programs at Grace Place. Yefri started working as a lead program assistant in the high school after-school program, Academy of Leaders. He thrived in the position, and was soon promoted to family engagement specialist.
While working at Grace Place, Yefri applied for the QuestBridge College Match Scholarship. College Match Scholarship Recipients are granted admission to one of QuestBridge’s partner colleges with a full, four-year scholarship worth over $200,000 each. Yefri was accepted to Norte Dame through Early Decision and Dartmouth through Regular Decision using his QuestBridge application. After accepting an invitation to visit both campuses, he compared scholarship packages and course offerings. He decided Dartmouth was the best fit for him.
Yefri starts his freshman year at Dartmouth in August. He plans to take general studies courses while he decides between his three areas of interest – computer engineering, electrical engineering or astrophysics. When asked why those three areas interested him Yefri replied, “I am interested in computer or electrical engineering, because I see so many people struggling with technology. I want to build a computer that everyone can use. My motivation for studying astrophysics is not as altruistic, mostly I just find it incredibly fascinating. I wrote my research paper for my Advanced Studies Laureate Diploma on string theory. When I visited the Dartmouth campus I went to a presentation on black holes, quasars and stars. My curiosity was piqued!”
Will Yefri be the next Nikola Tesla, or real-life Sheldon Cooper perhaps?