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Chuck Bachman, senior associate director of admissions, with Schuler Scholars Anna Connelly '14, Christian Ramirez '14, and Robert George '14

Christian Ramirez ’14 grew up outside Chicago watching his parents, who emigrated from Mexico in their teens, work two to three low-paying jobs at a time to support the family.  It was all the motivation he needed to earn good grades.

“I knew I didn’t want to start my day at 5, work until 2, go home, take a shower, and head to another job,” says Ramirez, who plans to major in chemical engineering. “I worked as hard as I could in school so that wouldn’t happen to me.”

His perseverance paid off, and Ramirez joins Anna Connelly ’14 and Robert George ’14 as one of three Schuler Scholars starting Lafayette this year. Carolyn Isaac ’12, a government and law major, was Lafayette’s first Schuler Scholar.

Started in 2002,  the Schuler Scholar Foundation is a privately funded program that helps academically gifted students at two inner city high schools outside Chicago navigate the often confusing world of preparing for, applying to, and selecting a college.

“In both of our schools, we’re taking the cream of the crop who are first-generation college bound students,” says Robert Andrews, director of college counseling at Schuler. “The belief is there’s a Mozart or a Picasso or a CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation in these communities, but they don’t know how to access these opportunities. They know Harvard and the community college but what lies between is a mystery.”

Chuck Bachman, senior associate director of admissions at Lafayette, has been instrumental in recruiting Schuler Scholars to campus. He says, “They bring a perspective that students from places like Westchester will benefit from … These kids are facing gang issues, no support; they have some challenges to overcome.”

The Schuler program selects promising students from Waukegan and Round Lake high schools prior to the start of their freshman year and pairs each with a Schuler counselor. For the next four years, they meet one-and-a-half hours a week with a tutor, spend 10 days at a summer leadership camp in the northern woods of Wisconsin, travel overseas, and attend cultural venues like the symphony, opera, plays, and museums.

“Even though our kids are from working class families, they might not be able to access upper-middle class opportunities,” says Andrews.  “We try to enrich students’ experiences so when they get to a college like Lafayette they’re not shell shocked.”

Starting their sophomore year in high school, Schuler scholars and their families begin visiting colleges that match their interests and academic abilities.

Connelly, a graduate of Round Lake High School, passed up a generous financial aid package from Haverford to attend Lafayette this year.

“I visited the campus last year and really loved it,” she says. “It has a good feel. There was a lot of energy. ”

The only college that has enrolled more Schuler scholars than Lafayette is Dartmouth.

Highly selective, private colleges like Lafayette are the best places for Schuler students because no one falls through the cracks, Andrews says.

“They have small classes, a strong alumni network, and give the best financial aid,” he says. “We believe very strongly in the power of a liberal arts education. Our kids are going to be applying for jobs that may not exist today. They need to hone their writing and critical thinking skills.”

George plans to major in physics at Lafayette and has dreams of working for NASA.  His father, who works as a manager at Home Depot, pushed him to excel in school, he says, so he could chart his own future.

“He doesn’t want me to have a job like he has,” George says. “He has to listen to the boss. He wants me to be the boss.”

George, who played viola and intramural volleyball in high school, plans to take advantage of Lafayette’s many extra-curricular activities.

“My goal is to remain on top of my grades and experience college to its fullest,” says George. “I’m a really athletic guy and I plan on playing ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, baseball, and joining some clubs.”

Isaac, whom Bachman tapped to help the new students adjust to life on campus, doesn’t believe the new group will have trouble adjusting to the academic rigors of Lafayette, but the students may need some help figuring out where they fit in socially.

“It’s shocking at first to come to an environment that’s so different from what you’re used to,” she says. “Waukegan is a very diverse place. It’s really unique and special, and we acknowledge everyone as the same. I think we’re better off for growing up where we did.”

Ramirez says meeting Bachman during a campus tour solidified his decision to attend Lafayette. “He really put me at ease,” he says. “He was so friendly. I thought if the admissions guy is like this, it’s got to be a great place.”

Categorized in: News and Features, Student Profiles, Students

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