Sitting in English class at the High School for Law and Justice, listening to a lesson on Macbeth, Roy Urbina knew his life would soon be completely different.
In just a few short months—just over 150 days, he’ll tell you—Urbina will leave his home near Hobby Airport and fly to Vermont, where he’ll be attending Middlebury College. From the largest city in Texas to a town of about 9,000 people a two-hour drive from French Canada, the first-generation college student is ready for the adventure.
“I can’t wait for the independence of college,” he said, laughing. “But I’m looking forward to the environment. You can go hiking, you can go outside, having that openness right there. Living in Houston, it’s pretty urban, and Vermont is so different.”
Urbina is one of 14 EMERGE students in HISD who were accepted to Middlebury College—a four-year school ranked as the ninth best liberal arts college in the nation.
“I owe EMERGE a hundred percent for that,” Urbina said.
EMERGE is a program started in HISD that is free and aims to serve high-performing students in underserved communities, helping them apply and get accepted to the nation’s top colleges.
The program begins with students in 10th grade. Mentors with the program assist students with applying for financial packages and preparing their applications throughout the program.
The 14 students accepted to Middlebury College all received robust, full-ride financial aid packages.
Nerjes Azzam, a senior at North Houston Early College High School, is another of the 14 students accepted to Middlebury. She says EMERGE has provided her with not only the educational support she needs, but emotional support as well.
“EMERGE did provide me another family. My own family has provided me life lessons and support, but EMERGE has multiplied that,” Azzam said. “There are people with diverse mentalities and backgrounds. I think it’s so beautiful to get to connect with them and learn so many new things as well.”
Many of the students in EMERGE are first-generation college students—including Urbina and Azzam—and that’s something that Sara Llansa, director of EMERGE, believes has major impacts on more than just the students in the program itself.
“It’s really just expanding what’s possible in the district for the students,” Llansa said. “We see our students tell their classmates, or their siblings, about what’s out there available to them. We’ve been really excited to see the benefits that accrue to more than just the student, but their families and entire community.”
For Urbina and Azzam, both are looking forward to a completely different experience in Vermont, thousands of miles from the familiar. And both agree that EMERGE helped them forge that new path.
“I think it’s important to recognize that first-generation students and low-income students are deprived of some resources that other students have,” Azzam said. “EMERGE filled in that gap for me.”