Being part of the Oliver Scholars program is no easy gig.
It takes the sacrifice of a summer and a month’s worth of Saturdays to make the cut. But for the kids that do, the academic opportunities could be endless.
Sugeidy Ferreira is finding that out. A graduating senior at Riverdale Country School, Ferreira was honored with the Oliver Scholars service award for completing more than 450 hours of community service, well above the required 150.
Yet, all that work doesn’t come without any perks, like a recent sit-down with CNN news anchor Don Lemon.
“Don is a champion for Oliver,” said Chantal Stevens, vice president of programs and operations for Oliver Scholars. “We wanted them to see someone that looked like them, and we wanted our scholars to be able to visualize something bigger and better, and defy those expectations people have for them.”
The Oliver Scholars program prepares black and Latino students at schools throughout all five boroughs to attend top universities, starting in seventh grade. It provides after-school classes, summer coursework and pre-career training. Students are typically nominated to the program by teachers.
The nominated student then formally applies, a process which includes a secondary school admissions test. Students who do well on that are invited back for an interview before finally being admitted.
Ferreira has spent hours helping not only in Riverdale, but also across state and international lines — like on a potato farm in Peru, or volunteering in after-school programs in New Orleans neighborhoods still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
In school, Ferreira photographs events and works for her school’s newspaper — that is when she’s not playing basketball or softball. Yet, Ferreira was not always the student she is today.
“I was a young naïve stubborn girl,” she said. “I’ve learned to have intelligent discussions and to take control of where I am going in my life”
Ferreira has managed to do just that. Although she is undecided about what school she’ll attend, Ferreira does know she’s interested in language, philosophy and pursuing something in the medicine field. She’d also like to focus on children.
“I love babies and kids,” Ferreira said. “I’m not going to complain on the sidelines, I’m going to be the one to evoke changes.”
Scholars also get another perk: Mentors. Not just in high school, but in college and beyond. Older scholars enrolled in college can give back by becoming a counselor for younger students in the program.
“If I have any little problem, I go to them and I always tell them when I have an event or game, and about my goals,” Ferreira said. “I just want to make them proud of what I become. They have this love for their students, and Oliver just wants us to be better versions of ourselves.”
The program has helped Ferreira refocus her goals, assisting her with time management, securing internships and networking — all crucial factors when applying to colleges.
“We are making the commitment to giving equal access to these students and creating a pathway to leadership,” Stevens said. “I think they are amazing, and it’s really wonderful for me to see just how they grow.”