Alumni Voices: Sebastian Rodriguez

sebastian-crsm2Sebastian Rodriguez graduated from Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep (Waukegan) in 2015 and is currently a member of Johns Hopkins University’s Class of 2019. This interview originally appeared on the Cristo Rey St. Martin website.

When Sebastian Rodriguez projects the mirror of his life a decade into the future, he sees himself working alongside the elite cadre of disease detectives and innovators on the front lines of public health at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. His career goals and commitment are precise and fully visualized: to combat disease and prevent environmental risks.

“My goal of bettering the lives of those around me would reach its highest peak when I can work for the biggest and most innovative organization that works for nothing more than the safety of the entire nation,” says the 19-year-old Class of 2015 CRSM graduate who is a sophomore at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD. “The experience I should have accumulated in 10 years should be enough for me to earn a higher level position within the CDC, and I can already see my high school diploma hanging next to my college diploma in my office.”

It’s the one career path where he knows he can truly use his skills toward an altruistic end. He’s already strategizing how he can give back to “the betterment of my own community: Waukegan/North Chicago, which would be my main objective in my occupation.” Already, he’s rallying forces to launch a scholarship for CRSM students, which he hopes to have in place for the current senior class, which graduates in June of 2017.

“This is my way to show how much I believe in the successful efforts of CRSM’s goal of setting students on a path to do something great with their life,” says Rodriguez who is super proud of his little brother Jose, who is a freshman at CRSM. “And what better way to show my appreciation to the very institution who made me who I am than to give back to those who gave so much?”

As he sets his sights on contributing to health initiatives that will have a strong impact on community health, his determination is built on a strong backbone.

From the get-go, Rodriguez was involved with almost every CRSM club: newspaper, student government, homecoming committee, volleyball, Schuler Scholars, Eco club and choir, mock trial and student government.

“I believe it is because of the wide-range of clubs that were offered at CRSM that I was able to explore almost all facets of creativity and collaborative group-work that shaped me into a balanced and curious student who could appreciate whatever the world had to offer,” he says.

His corporate work-study experience included: EMCO Chemical Distributors and United Conveyor Corporation, which he says shaped his career path.

“During my freshman year, I already knew I was interested in something science related,” he says. “One of my fondest memories from EMCO was being given special permission from my supervisor to spend an entire workday in the chemistry laboratories and observe one of the chemists at work. As my interests turned to engineering, I moved over to UCC and was able to catch my first glimpses of scientists and engineers working together to create more efficient ash disposal technologies to promote a healthier environment. This concept of a health environment would later come to influence my decision.”

Looking forward, he hopes to make the same kind of impact CRSM has made on his own life.

“It would be an understatement to say that CRSM has made a positive impact on my life,” he says. “My education was built upon the values of integrity, hard work, and stewardship. I left CRSM as a student ready for the college world and beyond. The expectations that were placed upon me in college were exactly what I was expecting from high school, and the concept of responsibility and having a solid work ethic I acquired from the Corporate Work Study Program could not be found anywhere else. Of course my fellow students at JHU know what it means to be a good student, though I can’t help but feel more resolute in the faith I have in my background experience.”

He adds: “Above all else, CRSM has taught me that ‘good enough’ should never be my standard. I was taught that hard work means something, and taking the easy way out of a difficult obstacle would never lead to greatness.

“As I carry on with my education, I have my own ideas for my personal best, and I am not satisfied with doing things half-way. CRSM taught me that there is always more that can be done to improve, and to make sure every work I create is reflective of the kind of person I am. ‘Minimal effort’ and ‘meets standards’ are not criteria for any assignment or project that involves me. And I have no one to thank but my parents and my high school for that,” he says.

Alumni Voices: Karis Harris

karis-harris-with-diploma-1-copyKaris Harris graduated from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School – Baltimore ’11 and continued her education at Stevenson University ’15, having received a scholarship throughout her four years. She is about to embark on a career as a case manager at INNterim Housing Corporation, fulfilling her dream to help others. She will be working with homeless women and children, as they achieve their own education and career goals.

How did you find and ultimately choose Cristo Rey?

Cristo Rey was introduced to me in middle school during an 8th grade assembly. The school was in its beginning stages when the representatives came to present. My mother and I chose Cristo Rey because we believed it would provide me with the best foundation and also a one-of-a-kind education, unlike the one that most high school kids receive.

How was your Cristo Rey high school experience?

My Cristo Rey experience was great! I built lasting relationships with friends, teachers, and administrators. I was introduced to the corporate and professional world at a young age. I received a college ready education that helped me to excel and be as successful as I was at Stevenson. And I had fun in between. Cristo Rey helped me to realize who I was as a person and began the molding process for the woman I am becoming today.

What advice would you give to prospective Cristo Rey students?

The advice I would give would be: “Always go against the norm and fight for what you believe in!” There were times when I was teased about attending Cristo Rey: going to a private school when my other friends went to city schools, wearing a uniform when they got to wear what they wanted, or even staying in some weekends to finish a paper or double check homework while they were out having fun. Yeah sometimes it got to me, but when I look at where I am, I just smile and continue to be thankful. Cristo Rey helped to instill character which is something a lot of people don’t recognize and really makes a difference.

Message from Cristo Rey Leadership

jlf_1815-copyDear Friends,

Announced this week, the launch of the American Talent Initiative is a direct assault on the problematic and costly undermatching of high achieving students from lower income backgrounds in American colleges with strong graduation rates and financial aid policies. ATI is a joint project of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute, Ithaka S+R, and 30 distinguished founding colleges and universities. By 2025, it seeks to increase by 50,000 the number of low and moderate-income students enrolling in and graduating from 270 American colleges and universities that have consistent six-year graduation rates of at least 70%, all of which ATI seeks as members. ATI has identified three immediate priorities: raising public awareness about and creating momentum to improve access and success for lower-income students; setting and seeking broad-based endorsement of its “aspirational, measurable goals” focused on recruitment, retention, completion and financial aid; and disseminating the research and knowledge that underlies and supports its goals. While we seek a better understanding of how we might best work with ATI and its member institutions to advance the college opportunities of our students, we are confident that students in every Cristo Rey school should and will be on ATI’s radar screen. I welcome the attention of this terrific collaboration of philanthropists, researchers, thought leaders, educators and innovators actively focused on broadening opportunities for lower income students.  Its success will develop and enrich both the students’ individual talents and life trajectories and the excellence and vitality of the higher educational institutions that they attend.

Ever onward,

Jane E. Genster

Student Voices: Neyda Mendez

washingtondc-1After spending my elementary and middle school years in public schools, I stumbled upon a private school called Don Bosco Cristo Rey, part of the Cristo Rey Network of thirty-two schools that serve students in urban areas. At first, I was hesitant to even apply. I had spent my whole life in public schools. My friends were there, I knew how everything functioned, and going to a private school meant I had to put a lot more effort into my work. They were already getting students ready for college, and I didn’t think my middle school had prepared me for that.

After much thought, however, I ended up applying and getting accepted. From the start, I could see significant differences. The school was all about its four pillars: faith, future, family, and fun. I immediately felt at home.

Two of my favorite things about Don Bosco are that it has small classes and comprises only four hundred students, compared to the 2,300 that go to the nearest public high school. These smaller quantities make interruptions less frequent and learning a lot more productive. Getting assistance on classwork and homework comes trouble-free. The small amount of students makes the school easy to navigate. And after school activities are a lot simpler. Anyone can start a club as long as they have enough people and a teacher to supervise.

The small student body also means that everyone fits in somewhere, knows each other, and is known by faculty and staff members, even if a student doesn’t have a class with them! In my larger middle school, everyone belonged to his or her own little “clique,” and many stayed with that group throughout their middle school lives. But at Don Bosco, everyone just seems to get along. Students are encouraged to join clubs, and when clubs are joined, new people meet. For example, I entered Don Bosco knowing less than ten people, yet throughout my freshman year I joined several clubs and met practically the whole school! My favorite club was called “Speak Out,” for which we organized events corresponding with the holidays. Last year around Christmas time, we collected shoes for children in Nicaragua. Moreover, my middle school principal didn’t know most of our names, but my Don Bosco principal knows all of us. It’s gratifying to see him take such an interest in meeting us and our families.

The school really puts you to work, too! Our classes cover various topics effectively and efficiently. I was always put in advanced “honors” classes in my middle school, but they were easy because the classification didn’t mean much. Now it’s a whole other story. Don Bosco’s education system is by far the most rigorous education system I’ve faced. Being in honors classes actually means something. Students get an extra point in their GPA, and that one point doesn’t come easy. We seem to move at a speed of light, and we cover lessons in a couple days that would take weeks in my old school! In our theology class, for example, we put on our own Masses, while peers at the local public school just sit and learn about them passively.

Preparing us for college and careers is the school’s top priority, and its Corporate Work Study Program does just that. In fact, it’s the reason why I’m working at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and writing this essay. The program assigns jobs to each and every student, placing them in government buildings, law firms, hospitals, hotels, universities, and more, at least one day every week. It gives us much-needed experience in the workplace, bolsters our resumes, enhances our social skills, and improves our sense of direction, especially for those of us who commute using D.C.’s Metro system. The people I’ve met and the stories they’ve told me have afforded me a valuable window into the real world and helped me feel more prepared for life after high school. The more time I spend in the workplace, the more confident I am that I can handle any task a supervisor could give me—now and in the future.

In short, Don Bosco Cristo Rey is a special school. Its differences are what make it worth the effort. The small classes, teachers’ encouragement to get involved with the school, its rigorous education system, and the corporate work study program all benefit students and the community by preparing us for the real world. We’re learning to be the person who says “I’m familiar with that” when no one else is. Every member of the faculty is devoted to our success. For them, I believe, nothing comes before our education. Don Bosco Cristo Rey is the school for me and my life goals.

This post was originally published by the Fordham Institute.

Alumni Voices: Saul Becerra Hernandez

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-53-17-amSaul Becerra Hernandez is a Cristo Rey graduate. Through the Corporate Work Study Program, Saul worked at BMO Harris Bank where he developed his passion for business. He is currently a senior at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, a Cristo Rey University Partner.

What sets Saul Becerra Hernandez apart is his business mindset. “The more time and effort you put into something, the more success will come along the way,” Becerra believes.

This mindset started when Becerra worked at BMO Harris Bank through a corporate work study program while attending Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, Minn. Becerra credits learning the  aspect of banking in creating his business mindset.  “I noticed customers with a lot of financial stress often revolving around debt or bad credit. I wanted to have a better financial future so I decided to do my best in college so I would not have any debt.”

This led Becerra to major in finance at  Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, where he attends on a full-ride scholarship through the First Generation Initiative (FGI) program. “This semester  I’m taking entrepreneurial finance and learning different viewpoints in the financial industry.”

In Fall of 2015 Becerra attended the Saint Mary’s job fair which led him to an internship with NorthWestern Mutual in summer 2016. “I was proud of being hired by Northwestern Mutual which is one of the top 10 best financial internships in the nation,” Becerra said. As a financial representative he got his internship contract extended throughout the school year.  “I had to go through an extensive training and I had to be certified in health, life, and disability insurance in order to sell those products to current and future clients,” Becerra said.

Becerra would like to continue gaining experience with different financial institutions to find his career calling. The investment courses this semester may help  Becerra find that calling. “I would like to apply for a financial analyst position because I like to see how companies make good investments,” Becerra said.

Becerra firmly believes he has the qualifications to succeed in the financial world. “One thing is that I know how to conduct myself professionally around individuals and help guide them through their financial process whether it is in the risk management side of finance or the investment side of finance.”

A big piece of advice Becerra received while working at BMO was to carry himself in a professional way in and outside of the office. “A CEO at the branch told me to always carry your brand with you. If you work alongside someone that tells you about their problems and what they did this weekend. When you become manager you will likely  hire another person who barely spoke about their life  but did their job right,”  Becerra said. “So I carry my brand in everything I say, and  do.”

The biggest thing Becerra has learned at Saint Mary’s thus far is that “college is not meant for the ‘social scene’ but is meant to get you where you want to be in life.”

FGI has helped Becerra earn  a good college education “When I first started here at Saint Mary’s the study hall was very helpful to me because it gave me a backbone to my education. It allowed me to have structure in my college academic career.” Becerra would love to change people like FGI has changed his life. “I want to make it to the top and when I make it to the top, I am going to change people’s lives. Nothing has changed my life more than the FGI program, so why not give back to FGI in the near future?”

Corporate Partner Spotlight: BMO Harris Bank

bmo_harris_bank_823692BMO Harris Bank is a valued Cristo Rey Corporate Partner. BMO Harris Bank employs student teams at Cristo Rey Milwaukee Jesuit High School, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School – Twin Cities,  Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (Chicago), and Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, for a total of more than 16 student workers across the Network. BMO Harris Bank was recently featured in the Cristo Rey Jesuit Chicago newsletter Las Obras.

In the fall of 2010, BMO Harris Bank planted the seed for a growing corporate partnership with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The bank’s Latino Alliance Employee Resource Group reached out to Cristo Rey, contributing scholarship funds donated by employees in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. This first touchpoint led to the hiring of four students through the Corporate Work Study Program, and since then, the relationship has blossomed beyond the 12 students they currently employ. Through volunteerism, financial literacy education, paid student internships, and scholarship fundraising, BMO Harris Bank and its Latino Alliance support our students while creating a more diverse workforce, increasing awareness for diversity and inclusion, and providing opportunities for employees to engage with our community.

Over the past two years, BMO Harris Bank has become a familiar face at our November Career Day event – an opportunity for the entire Sophomore Class to explore career options, talk with caring professionals, and practice job interviewing skills. At Career Day, students have a chance to ask volunteers what they really do every day at their jobs, how they got to where they are now, what they studied in college, and what advice they have for succeeding in their positions. Last year, our students had a chance to hear from BMO Harris employees during panel discussions on the topics of finance and entrepreneurship, before diving in for one-on-one conversations and even mock interviews with the volunteers.

BMO Harris employees also lent their expertise during Cristo Rey’s annual March interview weekend, helping our families complete time-sensitive financial aid applications. Each year, 100% of families applying to Cristo Rey request financial aid toward the $2,950 family contribution toward the cost of education. This year, the average freshman family of five earns only $35,729, necessitating over $600,000 in direct financial aid disbursements. Together with BMO Harris Bank employee volunteers, who contributed their time for a portion of the weekend, our families navigate the application process and receive the support they need to join the Cristo Rey community.

These opportunities stemmed from BMO Harris employees’ initial support for our student scholarships. Since their first fundraising effort in 2010, the BMO Harris Bank’s Latino Alliance Employee Resource Group has raised over $30,000 in scholarship funds through hundreds of donations from employees. Last year’s graduating BMO Harris Scholar even received a surprise visit at graduation from Latino Alliance representatives bearing flowers and well-wishes for her transition to college! Last month, we joined the BMO Harris Latino Alliance in kicking off the fundraising effort for this year’s scholarship campaign at their annual Hispanic Heritage Month event.

Complementing its community involvement with Cristo Rey, BMO Harris Bank also launched a new mobile-friendly, Spanish language website, providing Spanish-language resources for personal finance decisions. Together, these efforts creatively engage the Cristo Rey community at multiple levels and serve as an example of the many ways Cristo Rey welcomes its corporate partners to get involved in our school, in addition to hiring students.

Stay tuned for another Voices of Cristo Rey post tomorrow from Saul Becerra Hernandez, a Cristo Rey Jesuit Twin Cities graduate who was a student worker at BMO Harris Bank and now attends Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, a Cristo Rey University Partner. He shares that his experience at BMO Harris Bank motivated him to carry himself professionally. 

“A CEO at the branch told me to always carry your brand with you. If you work alongside someone that tells you about their problems and what they did this weekend. When you become manager you will likely  hire another person who barely spoke about their life  but did their job right. So I carry my brand in everything I say, and  do.”

Alumni Voices: Tasvir Singh

tasvir_singh_graduation-2-copyLittle over six years ago, I was fortunate enough to represent Cristo Rey High School Sacramento’s first graduating Class of 2010 as their valedictorian. Both my parents are immigrants from India, which is where they completed their schooling; I grew up in a family where education was highly valued, and I knew from a young age that the high school I attended would shape my career goals.

My four years at Cristo Rey were an enriching and rewarding experience that I would not trade for anything. Because of the unique work study component of the curriculum, I not only learned academics that prepared me for college, but also matured and gained confidence by working alongside health professionals. I had the great privilege of working at Sutter Medical Center for four years, which exposed me to the health care field and cemented my interest in a medical profession.

My work experience helped me get accepted into University of the Pacific’s Pre-Pharmacy Advantage Program; the connections I built at Sutter allowed me to volunteer at the inpatient pharmacy and get to know the staff personally. I spent three years as an undergraduate to complete all my pharmacy prerequisites, and then moved on to pursue a doctoral degree at the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. In May 2016, I graduated with my Pharm.D. and B.A.A.S. degrees, with aspirations to work as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital setting. My long-term career goal is to become a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist and advanced practice pharmacist.

Seeing “Dr. Singh” in emails addressed to me is surreal; as a freshman, I never dreamed of graduating at the age of 23 with a doctorate, let alone two degrees! But I can say with absolute faith that Cristo Rey is what helped make this into a reality—by allowing me to spread my wings, step out of my shell, and mature into the health professional that I am today. My teachers and coworkers were always there when I needed them, and by my senior year, I knew that they would remain lifelong friends and mentors.

I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to spend four of the most important years of my life at such a unique high school, one whose sole mission was to make sure that I received quality education both inside and outside of the classroom. I would like to extend my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to the faculty, staff, work study sponsors, and benefactors of Cristo Rey High School. Without you, none of this would have been possible.