Igniting a path to higher education

By Harper College

Igniting Paths scholars say scholarship allowed them to pursue their dreams

A transformative donation to Harper College is now transforming lives.

In 2021, the Illinois college received an $18 million gift from philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. A month after that donation, Harper College launched the Igniting Paths to Success Scholarship with the goal of helping 1,000 students from the community access and prioritize higher education. The scholarship is designed to help underserved members of Harper’s community by paying for tuition, books and fees.

Community members have been making the most of the opportunity. The Ignite Scholars range from traditional-age students who are the first in their families to enroll in college to older students embarking on new careers to better support their families and fulfill their career goals. And, true to the scholarship’s intentions, the majority of Ignite Scholars come from populations that have been traditionally underserved in higher education.

Removing some stress

When her little sister was born, Carmen Alonso had an epiphany. She had always been interested in science and the human body, but participating in her younger sister’s birth gave her a new perspective on the importance of neonatal nurses.

“I realized that nurses can really change your experience,” Alonso said. “Who you are as a caregiver can change a family’s whole experience.”

In high school at the time, Alonso knew she wanted to study to become a nurse in college. But nothing was going to be easy about that. As an undocumented immigrant (who has lived in the U.S. since she was 2), Alonso isn’t eligible for financial aid. As a child of a single mother (with a toddler on her hands), she was unsure if she had the money to be a full-time student.

After enrolling in a couple of classes for Harper College’s fall 2021 semester, the Wheeling resident applied for the Igniting Paths to Success Scholarship. She said she was desperate for any amount of financial assistance.

Her desperation turned to joy when she found out she received the Igniting Paths scholarship. She celebrated with her mom and immediately enrolled in two more classes – realizing her plan of going to college full-time.

“I want to put my all into these classes and, without having to work all the time, I can,” said Alonso, 18. “It’s weird not to feel stressed about paying for college.”

Becoming a role model

Jorge Monaco is the son of Mexican immigrants who emphasized to him the importance of a good education. He spoke about what receiving the Igniting Paths scholarship meant not only to him, but to his whole family.

“They see that their oldest son is in college now and can establish a good life,” said Monaco, 19. “I can be a role model for my two younger siblings. They can learn from how I’m doing in college.”

From an early age, Monaco was interested in robotics and frequently attended STEM camps. His goal is to become an engineer, with plans for an associate degree at Harper, then transfer to an area university to pursue his bachelor’s. His excitement about his future is palpable.

The same goes for Kenia Roper, a 30-year-old mother of two from Schaumburg who works as a caregiver. Because of her talents in that role, she said she has often been given advice to get a degree in the medical field. So, with the help of the Igniting Paths scholarship, she’s pursuing a career in surgical technology.

Like many of her fellow Igniting Paths scholars, Roper appreciates how she’s been able to focus on her studies with a financial burden removed. As a parent with plenty of other tasks to juggle, she’s noticed how her concentration on her studies has improved this past semester.

“I’ve been getting A’s and B’s,” Roper said. “This means I can take classes that I want without being on a payment plan. It has made me feel more confident.”

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Harper College

is located in Palatine, Illinois.