Changing One Life Who Will Change Many
This summer, Nayeli Apablasa is taking her first real break from school since second grade. From a young age, she has used time between academic years to pursue extra opportunities and push herself to achieve her highest potential. Thanks to Nayeli’s drive and the support of the College Success Arizona, she is about to enter a master’s program in clinical neuroscience after completing college in just three years.
Nayeli was the first in her family (including cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents) to attend college. In high school, even as she pushed herself—achieving straight A’s and maintaining leadership roles in most of her 15 extracurricular activities— she worried about how she would afford higher education. Nayeli’s parents divorced when she was seven years old, and finances were tight as her mother worked to raise her and her sister on a limited income.
In eighth grade, Nayeli, along with her mother joined an Arizona State University initiative called the Hispanic Mother Daughter Program. Over the course of several years, they attended monthly meetings focused on college entrance and achievement. In high school, a program leader suggested that Nayeli apply for the College Success Arizona scholarship award.
Winning the scholarship and entering the honors program at Arizona State University was life changing for Nayeli.
“Getting the scholarship meant the world to me. I didn’t have to worry about finances. I just had to focus on acing exams,” says Nayeli.
The four-year scholarship has also enabled her to pursue a lifelong career goal inspired by a cause close to her heart. When Nayeli was nine, her sister Aislyn (14 at the time) began to experience recurrent panic attacks and severe anxiety. Nayeli, wanting to understand what her sister was undergoing and to find answers to the challenges she faced, decided she wanted to become a pediatric neurologist.
At ASU, Nayeli began to lay the groundwork for a path to her childhood dream, pursuing a BS in microbiology. She aggressively pursued opportunities to expand her knowledge and credentials, including work with a physics professor that mentioned his research on the virus-fighting potential of medical lasers during class. Nayeli was particularly interested in the laser’s capacity to attack HIV and successfully took her professor up on his challenge to assemble a team including a virologist, microbiologist and HIV specialist to restart a dormant research project.
Thanks to the College Success Arizona scholarship, she was able to spend significant time working on this research outside of class in a lab, time that she would otherwise have needed for a job to help cover her tuition and other costs. Initial results indicate that these lasers have the capacity to disable HIV cells while leaving healthy tissue unaffected.
Nayeli is just as grateful for the emotional and personal support the foundation provides as she is for the financial contributions. The support she received from College Success Arizona goes beyond the financial component. Her mentor and advisor were critical parts of her support network throughout college, and enabled her to tackle everything from challenges in particular classes, and financial aid questions from the university. College Success Arizona provided a voice for those instances where she really needed help.
“If not for College Success Arizona, I would likely have gone to a community college and would still be working on my bachelor’s degree for another year or two,” says Nayeli. “I certainly wouldn’t be headed to Europe to get a different perspective on the medical field’s approach to neurological disorders.”
Nayeli encourages College Success Arizona scholars to pursue every opportunity available. “Don’t let the fear of finances or failure stop you. You fail when you stop trying.”