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Alyssa Leal, Promise Scholar, tells CFHZ how she turned challenges into opportunities and then paid it forward for her fellow students.

We are fortunate to have plenty of opportunities to hear from our past and current Promise students. Recently, we received an update from Alyssa Leal, a senior at Central Michigan University (CMU). She is part of the 2019 Promise class and is on-track to graduate this summer.

“I am so grateful for my time as part of the Promise community. As a first-generation student, my first two years in higher education challenged me in a way that I had never really been challenged before, and I truly struggled through my first two years here at CMU. I didn’t fully understand how to access resources to help me navigate this journey, and I struggled finding a community who shared my identity and experience as a first-generation student and member of the Latine* community.

It was difficult to feel like I was not part of a community, and I realized there may be other people who felt similarly. That was the moment I decided to kick it into high gear and create a community for myself and others with my identities on campus.

In my junior year, I founded two student organizations on campus called Central Bridge and Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Incorporated. Central Bridge is CMU’s only registered student organization with a focus on cultivating community for first-generation college students on campus and providing outreach to high schoolers who will be first-generation college students. Gamma Phi Omega is a Latina-oriented multicultural sorority and is the only Latina-oriented sorority at CMU.

In founding these two organizations, I was able to create the community for myself that I was missing out on during my first two years in college.

Currently, I am the president of both organizations. They are thriving and gaining visibility among other students who are searching for a community where they feel seen and understood. Although those two projects have been major contributors to my growth, I also experienced other successes. I had the opportunity to serve as a resident assistant on campus for five semesters, and last semester I finally managed to make it on the Dean’s list for the first time in my college career by receiving a 3.86 semester GPA.

Prior to attending college, it was difficult for me to envision the end-goal which, at the time, was a bachelor’s degree. Now, I am a couple classes and an internship away. Once I realized I could succeed in a higher education setting, I decided to apply to graduate schools. As a first-generation college student, one degree is intimidating, let alone two, but I know a master’s degree will truly benefit me. I applied to seven Master of Social Work programs across the country and have received letters of acceptance from two schools so far.

Many of the successes I have achieved over the past few years I can attribute to the Promise Scholarship. I am so grateful to the Promise Scholarship for making higher education possible for me.”

It’s inspiring to hear how Alyssa turned her early struggles in college into an opportunity to build networks and organizations that not only provided a community for her to succeed, but ensured that future first-generation students and Latine students at CMU have a place where they find belonging, mentorship, and connection. Congratulations, Alyssa!

*Latine is a gender neutral term for Latin Americans.

The Holland/Zeeland Promise Scholarship began in 2010 when a group of business and community leaders came together with a dream to replicate the Kalamazoo Promise and allow our area’s young people to graduate college or technical school without the burden of crushing student debt. Since its inception, the Promise has been housed at the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area where it has received administrative support.

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