By the time she graduated high school, Los Angeles native Venezia Garza had received two letters that would have a lasting impact on her education. Her mother delivered the first to her during a middle school dance class — she had been admitted into the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) Scholars Program, a selective four-year program that pairs students from low-income families with academic advisors and other educational resources. The second, four years later, was an acceptance letter to her top-choice university.
“I saw this opportunity, and it mentioned support for college. I knew that I wanted to go to college, yet being the first in my family to attend, I didn’t really have a clue what I needed to do to apply,” Garza, now a second-year student studying medical anthropology on the pre-medical track at Princeton University, remembers. “Truly without CTY, I would not be where I am today. Their support. Their kindness. The doors of opportunity that they have opened up for me have been incredible and life changing. I’m forever grateful for everything that they’ve done for me.”
Now a new member of the CTY Advisory Council, Garza is one of more than 720 high-potential students who have participated in the CTY Scholars Program since its creation in 2004. There are currently about 40 students in the program living in California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Thanks to a gift from Gallagher — a global insurance brokerage, risk management, and consulting services firm — four students from northern New Jersey have joined their ranks as part of the new Gallagher cohort.
“Seeing the social justice issues, we knew we had to do more to give back,” explains Andrew Moss, Gallagher’s national director of client strategy and a former CTY program manager and co-director. “We know the great educational opportunities that CTY offers, and more kids need to take advantage of them. For us, it really is a commitment to the community and doing what’s right.”
The CTY Scholars Program is nearly entirely philanthropically funded. A four-year sponsorship of one student costs $25,000 and covers individualized advising, group workshops, summer programs and travel, online classes, college admissions tests and test prep, and college tours. Students from under-resourced communities are recruited in eighth grade and work with their advisor throughout high school, which Garza says was, “unparalleled to anything she had experienced” and one of the most impactful parts of the program.
“Oftentimes, the students attend high schools where school counselors are overwhelmed. They’re focused on students who might be at risk of not graduating or students who are struggling,” says Makaya Jackson, CTY Scholars Program director. “We fill in the gap and are able to work with students to make sure that they are supported as much as possible and have the information they need to be competitive applicants to selective colleges.”
For Garza, CTY’s community of scholars — a network of friends, peers, and future colleagues — is equally important. The cohorts are intimate and close, she says, and she’s still rooting for her fellow CTY Scholars.
“Knowing that there were other students like myself who were going through the same struggles, who understood what it was like to be a first-generation, low-income student in these new spaces — it was such a beautiful connection,” she says.
Scholars also build connections with their donors, Jackson says, and work hard to exceed their expectations. Those relationships are part of what inspired Gallagher to get involved with CTY. Moss says the company is hoping to connect with future leaders and expose them to new career opportunities, as well as bolster diversity efforts within the industry.
“We need bright, energetic, engaged people to fill the rooms,” he says. “This is helping the wider community, not just one subset.”
Topics: Center for Talented Youth, Support Scholars