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Karen Banda

To attend Smith College, planned major: Government, minor in Latin Studies or Spanish, Furr HS graduate
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Meghan Berndt

Rising senior at
Sharpstown HS, planned college major: Biology
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Joshua Epkins
Rising senior at B.T. Washington/HSEP, planned college major: Engineering
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Felipe Guillen

To attend Stanford, planned college major: History and Spanish, Chavez HS graduate
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Olaide Sode

Rising senior at Carnegie Vanguard, planned college major: Anthropology

Permalink to EMERGE Internship Was One of the Best Experiences of My Life

EMERGE Internship Was One of the Best Experiences of My Life

Today is the last day of my internship with EMERGE. These past two months have passed incredibly quickly but have also been amazing. I’ve learned about myself, the environment of a startup, nonprofits, and all of the work that it takes to reach where EMERGE has reached and continues to expand to.

I met Houston Texan Garrett Graham (#88) and his wife, Ericka Graham, co-founders of Project 88. I was able to create and strengthen relationships with many EMERGE staff. I learned how to be flexible, independent, and a mentor. Overall, this experience has been one of the best experiences of my life.

I look back to the first time I spoke with EMERGE Director of Programming Felicia Martin during my phone interview. Our talk lasted around 15 minutes and she offered me the position on the spot. I didn’t hesitate and said yes right away. After being part of EMERGE for four years, I was going to be able to help the organization to which I owe so much. During our first meeting, we took a DiSC assessment. I had taken other personality assessments before but I had never that one. I learned that my strengths are in the “i” section – influence. According to this, a person with the influence area is enthusiastic, magnetic, convincing, and likes communicating with people. Reading this helped me to understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie.

Over the past two months, I have helped chaperone the Boston college tour and helped organize the EMERGing Leaders Institute. I have met amazing people and had a great time. I even experienced what working at an actual startup is like  –  working in cafes, at Furr high school’s conference room, and even on Felicia’s truck. I learned how to work without much guidance. It is a valuable experience that I will never forget.

I am beyond glad that my first internship and job during my college years was with EMERGE.


Permalink to The Trip to Yale Changed My Life — and My Future Career

The Trip to Yale Changed My Life — and My Future Career

My name is Daniel Vargas and I attend Westside High School. I recently visited Yale University with the EMERGE team and I have to say, it changed my perspective of my future role as a college student. Here are just three ways this trip has enriched my life:

1) Before coming to Yale, I felt inadequate to compete with other accomplished students. I always had a feeling that I was limited to certain schools because I had several insecurities about the accomplishments I had made. However, I built new relationships and this idea vanished as my confidence grew, because I became engaged in case studies and intricate talks about my future. As I reflect on this trip, I start to think that maybe this is what some students need to become comfortable with the stress-inducing task of dealing with college applications alone. In short, this trip can change anyone’s life.

2) Coming to Yale shed light on my ignorance. Prior to this, I lacked knowledge of what a liberal arts school really was. I thought I wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin. I was limited to what I thought was a good school and what a potential employer might find captivating. But after learning of this amazing thing called liberal arts, I learned there was a more efficient way to mix all my passions and earn a degree that isn’t dedicated to one subject. I also did not know how much universities are willing to give me money to attend their classes and even study abroad! The amount of information I learned became overwhelming after a certain point, because now, I feel compelled to apply this knowledge to finding a better choice to fit my desires [..]

3) I had a mock interview with a college admissions officer. I did not know this person, but I did my task of expressing my passions and my aspirations. The conflict I faced was an interest in business as well as a passion for sharing my knowledge and volunteering. What seemed to be incompatible was abruptly converted into what I might want to do with my life. My interviewer, someone I had never seen before, [gave] me the idea of starting my own non-profit organization. I became intrigued instantly. In a sense, she transformed what I wish to study.

Words can’t express how beneficial this trip was for us as EMERGE juniors. Many students walked around comparing Yale to Wesleyan, showing intense interest in both. I can’t think of one student who has failed to enjoy this trip and its benefits. Words can form ambiguous phrases, so one might not be able to understand how passionate I am about letting others experience what I have. So [my advice to future EMERGE students] is — experience it for yourself, join EMERGE and go on the Yale trip next summer. I’ll enjoy seeing your blogs and reading about your stellar experiences.

Permalink to Seeing a Little of Myself in New Emerge Juniors

Seeing a Little of Myself in New Emerge Juniors

By Karen Banda

As part of my internship with EMERGE, I was a chaperone for this year’s Boston College Tour. My group consisted of 14 rising high school juniors, all of whom had a spark ready to be lit by at least one of the colleges on our visit. I saw myself in these students. I saw the hunger for a bigger and brighter future in their eyes — a hunger that they probably didn’t even know existed. I saw a fire that illuminated everything going on around them and the desire to take it all in. This hunger and fire are not visible in many kids their age.IMG_3523

The trip started with a very early wake-up call for everyone. By 3:45 a.m., students were supposed to be at the Hattie Mae White building, ready to tour six colleges in five days. Although tired, the students seemed ready and excited for what was to come. We departed Houston in an airplane full of EMERGE Fellows — a beautiful sight.

On the first day, I got to know my kids — Karina, Suemy, Maria, Andrea, Joceline, Genesis, Connie, Alejandra, Syed, Lorenzo, Alfonso, Michael, Dongha,, and Gerardo. We talked about their fears and struggles as first-gen, minority, or low-income students striving to attend a top-tier college. I introduced myself, told them that I was a rising sophomore at Smith, and that I, too, had gone through struggles similar to their own. We played group games to strengthen our relationships and bonds, and they were all smiles and laughter — even the shy and quiet ones.

During the next few days, we toured Brandeis, Tufts/Wellesley, Northeastern, MIT, Harvard, and Brown. The bond of Group 5 strengthened, and we became a little family. I also met Dariana and Jennifer, two EMERGE scholars who had just graduated high school and will be attending Brandeis in the fall. We made plans to meet, and I made sure they knew I was there to support and help them through any problems they may face during their first year. They asked questions about the terrible winters and what they needed to survive them.

I grew closer to Danny, my former program manager, and learned many things about him that I didn’t know before. He became more of a friend during this short trip. I also had the pleasure of working next to and getting to know Felicia Martin and Victoria Chen — two beyond awesome people — and all the other chaperones. The people on this trip definitely made it fun and a beyond amazing experience.

IMG_3613One thing that stood out in the trip was Wellesley’s tour. A lot of the girls went in thinking that they would NEVER apply or go to an all-women’s college. Many had misconceptions regarding what an all-women’s college is like or what type of education they would receive. After a tour of the campus and an info-session, however, those thoughts flew out the window. As we were heading back to the bus, I heard many girls talking excitedly about the possibility of going to Wellesley, although I did talk to them about Smith in the hope that they would fall in love with it as well. Many of the girls even asked me why I chose Smith and what my experiences have been like. I am happy that EMERGE is opening the eyes of the girls in the program to show them what an empowering education an all-women’s college can provide.

This past week was exhausting but exciting and rewarding. Going back home and seeing the fellows ready for their next year of school and hearing them talk about how they want to attend one of those schools brightened my day. I looked back to when I was a rising junior in high school and realize how these kids are surer of where they want to go than I was during senior year. I am glad that they have the fire inside of them to break boundaries and surpass the road blocks that are in their way. Hopefully, when I am a senior at Smith, I will get to see some familiar faces starting their first year on my campus and the other Massachusetts schools.

Permalink to A Little Unfinished Business

A Little Unfinished Business

High-achieving students from 24 HISD high schools toured some of the nation’s top colleges and universities as part of the EMERGE summer tours.  One of the trip’s chaperones, Reagan High School math teacher Khoon Yu Tan, shares experiences from the trip:

Flying for the first time can be an unnerving experience, but for almost all of the 70-odd EMERGE Fellows who are rising high school seniors, the initial discomfort of flying soon dissipated.  As these students, henceforth called fellows, started exchanging pleasantries, they soon discovered each other’s passion, interests, and talent, gaping in astonishment. I wasn’t spared the same astonishment — beneath these fellows’ affable nature lies a great store of energy, drive, and ambition!

Today marks the fourth day of the fellows’ visit to Yale and Wesleyan universities. I couldn’t be more pleased with the well-planned activities, feeling as fortunate as these fellows do to get to attend the trip.  Professor Stephen Pitti, also the master of Yale’s Ezra Stiles College, where the chaperones and fellows reside, has been a gracious and hospitable host. Apart from being an accomplished professor of history and American studies, Master Pitti lives with his family in Ezra Stiles College, eats in Stiles’ dining hall, and presides as a faculty presence in Stiles.

“I imagined a kindling of fire in these bright scholars eager to commence their undergraduate studies at an Ivy League school like Yale.”

The trip has been a boon to the fellows for the following reasons. On the third night, the fellows got to meet a panel of Yale undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college. The majority of the EMERGE fellows are from minority or economically disadvantaged background. Such socioeconomic backgrounds correlate with being first-generation college attendees. Eyes widened, jaws dropped, and a flood of questions were tossed at the panel. I imagined a kindling of fire in these bright scholars eager to commence their undergraduate studies at an Ivy League school like Yale.

As if having their intellectual curiosity piqued by an assistant professor’s lecture on “Making Atoms Dance” wasn’t enough, the fellows were further delighted by cutting-edge research and design projects pursued by Yalies at the Center for Engineering, Innovation, and Design during the fellows’ tour there, and by the highly spirited talk by the Yale president’s wife, Marta Moret. Marta, a Puerto Rican whose parents did not attend college, used to live on the same street as Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third female justice of the Supreme Court.

Overall, talking to Yalies face-to-face, from the president’s wife to the current freshmen who are passionate about building high-rises that can self-disinfect, has not only informed the EMERGE fellows on the college-admissions process, college life, and the shifting global challenges that lie ahead; it has made their big dreams plausible. This trip is just the beginning of their quest. With two more days of inspiration, useful tips, and camaraderie, it is a journey well beyond the world of high school for these fellows.


Permalink to Taking a Walk on the Ivy League Side

Taking a Walk on the Ivy League Side

EMERGE students visit Yale, other northeastern campuses

High-achieving students from 24 HISD high schools toured some of the nation’s top colleges and universities as part of the EMERGE summer tours.  Here are some first-hand accounts of their experiences:

Cameron Lavergne, student at Booker T. Washington High School

When I first found out about the Future Scholars Institute at Yale, I thought it would be a great way to kick off the summer. After being here, I realize that there is more to this trip than just me. We EMERGE Fellows represent an era of innovation and understanding. We are here following our dreams and preparing ourselves for the rest of life. I understand that the Class of 2016 EMERGE Fellows are my academic family, and we have grown so much in just one week. Being around so many people who are just like me shows that we are not in this alone. I am thankful for this trip, because I have felt a real sense of community. At the end of the day, it does not matter which college we attend, but it does matter that we have a passion for our future and all it encompasses.


Liana Wang, student at Bellaire High School

Sometimes if you repeat a word over and over again, it begins to lose its meaning. You are lost in a random arrangement of letters, focused on the sound but detached from the definition. College, in a way, had become a repeated word. An institution like Yale has been a dream for years that I never really considered to be a possibility. Although I learned more thanks to EMERGE, and college had become more real, in a sense it also grew more distant and further away. Especially at Bellaire, where overbearing competitiveness permeates the atmosphere at times. The reality and ultimate meaning of college itself had faded away and taken a background of the college application process.

Yale Future Scholars Institute (FSI) brought college alive.

Being here — walking its streets, hearing lectures from passionate professors, being regaled with the authenticity and openness of its students — restored meaning to the word “college.” It excited me, and I am absorbing its energy. College is no longer a destination shrouded in mist, but a vibrant, living experience that is one step in the journey.

  • Laughter: a panel of first-generation Yale students dispelled fears of applications but more so college life
  • Amazement: Professor Cha spoke about her research in metallic glass
  • Relief and Reflection: listening to admissions officers
  • Community: found among a group of amazing high school seniors, it has helped me to find meaning in the college experience again
  • College: a word with newfound meaning




Permalink to Making an Impact at Goldman Sachs Undergrad Camp

Making an Impact at Goldman Sachs Undergrad Camp

By Karen Banda

“The work you do will have a direct effect on the business and community. At Goldman Sachs, you will make an impact.”

My summer started with a trip to Jersey City, where I spent four days at the Goldman Sachs undergraduate camp. I knew what Goldman Sachs was, but I didn’t know how important and prestigious it is. I applied to the program thinking only that it would be something to add to my resume. I tried looking online for a better description of the program, but I couldn’t find anything except an overview. However, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to apply to Goldman Sachs pass me by.KB_GS1

On April 22, I received an email from the Goldman Sachs Diversity Recruitment Team. “Congratulations!” it said. “We would like to cordially invite you to attend the 2015 Goldman Sachs undergraduate camp.” I received the notification during the last week of classes. I had a pile of work waiting for me, and I was unsure if I would like the camp. I wasn’t interested in finance, and I didn’t think that working on Wall Street would be the thing for me.

Despite my initial hesitation, my mom convinced me to accept the offer. I don’t know why I needed convincing. I think I was afraid of getting out of my comfort zone – something I had not had to do since last September. I didn’t know anyone who was going to go, and it was my first time travelling completely alone. No one would be waiting at the airport to take me to the hotel. I am the type of person who needs to know exactly what I am getting myself into – I don’t like surprises. Not knowing what this program was going to be about and not having a detailed agenda was nerve-wracking.

I left Sunday mKB_GS2orning with butterflies in my stomach. When I arrived at the hotel, it was BEAUTIFUL! It even had a view of the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. Sunday night I met my roommate, a student from Harvard. She was a friendly and amazing girl whom I was happy to have as my roommate. Monday came, and it was my first day at the Goldman Sachs building. I was placed in a group where I quickly made new friends. I was one of 150 students at the conference, selected from 2,000 applicants. That day, I learned everything there is to learn about Goldman Sachs: what Goldman Sachs does; their various divisions, and their community projects. I was starting to like Goldman Sachs (GS).

The second day I was placed in a different group. Just when we were getting comfortable with a group, it was time to switch to a different one. Tuesday we focused on discovering ourselves. I found out that I am a driver (just like Olivia Pope and Cyrus Beene from Scandal), but I already knew that. Wednesday we had the opportunity to network with GS professionals for two hours. I talked to two representatives from the legal division, and they told me everything I wanted to know about working in GS. After that, we had a crash course on Excel. Although I was confused most of the time, I survived. We had group presentations, since we had to work on an investment pitch with our first group. After the presentations and to wrap up the camp, we had a few competitive, but fun, games with our groups.

On Thursday, we had exit meetings with someone from each of the divisions. I was nervous because we were told to practice our pitch – something I didn’t have ready yet. However, the meeting was nothing like an interview! One interviewer was Gigi Chavez de Arnavat, managing director and associate general counsel of Legal Division. Another one was Ellena Kim, current analyst in the Legal Division. The meeting consisted of talking about the division, my ability to speak Spanish (and how native/fluent Spanish speakers are needed on the legal team, since there is a new office in Mexico City), and how I liked Smith. It was a great conversation! It was beyond amazing to have the opportunity to speak to two people in the same division and learn what they do. I would never have had the opportunity to do this if it I hadn’t attended undergraduate camp.KB_GS4

I finished the program with many new friends, new insight on Goldman Sachs, and more skills than when I began. I was afraid at first, but I quickly got over my fear. I am excited to continue my great summer! In a few weeks, I will start working with EMERGE.

Summer, I am ready for you.

Permalink to Finals week was exhausting, exhilarating – but now I’m home!

Finals week was exhausting, exhilarating – but now I’m home!

By Karen Banda

Home sweet home. Being able to say those words feels great! During finals week and while traveling home, however, it seemed like I would never be able to say those words.

Finals week was probably the slowest week of the entire first year. Not even the amount of work I had to do made the week pass by more quickly. My days consisted of working on my Spanish project, writing a nine-page paper for government class, or making a study guide and using it to studying for my Portuguese exam. It was a long and difficult week.

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