Our scholars are chosen because they perform in the 98th percentile of America’s high school students and they demonstrate an unwavering drive to succeed and give back; we prepare them to compete for and excel in outstanding colleges. Because advantage isn’t just for the advantaged.


Harvard University

My parents have cared for lawns in Sarasota County for over 35 years. The life of a laborer is an honest one, but that will never make up for the long hours, sore backs, red eyes and stress that comes from living with no other options. I sometimes doubted my own potential as I noticed how others reacted to my family’s position on the social ladder. I felt as though I was being judged as talented for “what I was” – a category apart and somewhat inferior to the general pool. But since working with Leaven, I‘ve seen things in a different light.

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In high school, my Leaven mentor, Jane, sat down with me for hours at a time as college deadlines loomed. She truly got to know me and my family as I got to know what I wanted from college and life. Because of Leaven, where most people see limitations, I see unbridled potential.

I’ve since graduated from Harvard University with degrees in Sociology and Japanese. I served as an assistant English teacher at two public middle schools in Japan for two years before taking a position at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. I’m now beginning to study Danish language while discussing next-steps in my career with the very host family Jane introduced me to eight years ago as I adjusted to life in Boston.

None of this would have been possible without the guidance I received from Leaven, which gave me tools I needed to succeed in an alarmingly competitive process, yet the freedom to be myself. Leaven taught me the most important lesson of the proverbial social ladder: It is a ladder, and you can climb it.

“Leaven taught me the most important lesson of the proverbial social ladder: It is a ladder, and you can climb it.”


Haverford College

Reflecting on my childhood, I don’t feel I was ever truly disadvantaged. Instead, I learned how to make the most from what I had. I can make something from nothing. Like Leaven, I aim to fix and create.

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When my father saw me repairing my broken toy truck, he recognized my potential. As we upgraded from living in a garage to a home, my toys upgraded to computers – broken computers, that is. As time passed, my father’s health forced him to step down from his roofing job, creating financial hardship for my family. I found a way to help by launching an unconventional business, buying and selling collectible clothes and shoes online. My enterprise thrives today.

Yet at the same time, I’ve spent my days and nights caring for my baby cousin, Noah. Like a brother or son to me, Noah is developmentally disabled and needs daily therapy. I feel a responsibility for him. Through Noah, I’ve realized not every situation is entirely “fixable.”

I see each of life’s challenges as an opportunity to find a solution, or simply a path forward. With Leaven by my side, I can do just that at Haverford College where I’m planning to pursue a 3+2 Program in City and Regional Planning, a joint Bachelor’s/Master’s degree with the University of Pennsylvania.

I’ve always looked for ways to manage my studies and help my extended family. By creating a future for myself with Leaven’s support, I know I can be the solution.

“I see life’s challenges as an opportunity to find a solution, or simply a path forward. With Leaven by my side, I can do just that.”


Northwestern University

I was taught that poverty didn’t have to look like poverty. I inherited the practice of handwashing shoes so no one could tell I only had three pairs, two of which were sewn with rubber from bike tires. I painstakingly shaved hand-me-down sweaters lined with lint so others couldn’t tell they weren’t mine to begin with. But I am not simply construed from federal food stamps, the First-Generation Low-Income title, or Goodwill mattresses. With Leaven’s support, I am my own creation.

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I am a canvas of juxtaposition – low income, but rich in potential. Cuban, but American, navigating the junction of origins and opportunity. First-generation, yet blessed with the privilege of attending a rigorous high school and now, with Leaven by my side, Northwestern University.

I am the award-winning poems of a woman with too many emotions in mind and too many languages on her tongue. I am the opinion editorials of a student journalist with little patience and a fierce vocabulary. I am my artwork, my diaries, my unpublished first drafts, my printed anthologies.

I am a voice for marginalized groups. My platform is language – spoken or written. At Northwestern, I will pursue International Relations with concentrations in East Asian Studies and French Studies.

I am a mess of contradiction, but more powerful because of circumstance. I am the first to reap the benefits sewn by decades of sacrifice, and I will be the one to dismantle what came before me.

“I am a canvas of juxtaposition – low income, but rich in potential. Cuban, but also American. First-generation, yet blessed with the privilege of attending Northwestern University.”



I was born with malformed feet requiring multiple surgeries. So, my childhood aspiration to become a dancer yielded into a passion for reading and learning – anything about astronomy, physics or geology. I looked up at the night sky and dreamed about exploring exotic worlds in space, black holes and other high-gravity phenomena.

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A year after my father’s death, the summer of my sophomore year, I sought answers and purpose. Facing foreclosure, my mom and I suddenly had to leave our home. My head swam with fear of homelessness; my heart ached with grief. Then, I chanced upon the Faulhaber Fab Lab.

There, I learned and later taught 3-D fabrication, computer aided design and robotics. I discovered the joy of hands-on group learning and shared creation. Everyone deserves to engage with STEM and art. Inspired by this belief, I founded the Growing Strong STEMs outreach program at the Laurel Civic Association as part of my Girl Scout Gold Award project. Through a collaboration among Leaven, the Laurel Civic Association and the Fab Lab, Growing Strong STEMs continues to inspire future engineers, software designers and robotics makers in Sarasota.

Leaven provides me with support and guidance so I can realize my dream of exploring what’s beyond earth. Today, I’m a first-generation college student on full scholarship at MIT, studying planetary science, astrophysics and geoscience. I conduct research on the climate and geology of Mars with MIT/Harvard joint-lab research projects using fieldwork simulations in Death Valley and the Himalayas.

In twenty years, I’m not sure where I’ll be. Whether exploring the surface of an exoplanet, researching the inner workings of Earth or teaching a group of undergraduates, I know that Leaven helped fuel my journey there.

“In twenty years, whether exploring the surface of an exoplanet or teaching a group of undergraduates, I know that Leaven helped fuel my journey there.”


Yale University

As a Mexican-American, low-income, first-generation college student, I often feel drowned within a hyphenated limbo. Coupled with the outsider label of being a “first” — a title that results in only the highest of expectations from those watching — the fear of failure looms in the presence of each opportunity to succeed. While the expectation of greatness often feels overwhelming, I appreciate that the option to flourish even exists — and for the first time for someone in my family, it’s within reach.

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When I was in fifth grade, my mother began working two jobs after my father’s departure, and I assumed the role of stay-at-home sister – I walked my younger brother to and from school, checked his homework, cooked his meals, and kissed him goodnight. While my peers enjoyed middle-school free time, I engaged in a different form of independence. Now, I take pride in my differences.

Because of the sacrifices my mother made, her past serves as a foil to my future. While she was forced to drop out of school at age eleven in order to support her family, I continue my education at Yale University as an Ethics, Politics and Economics major with a concentration in Human Rights. With Leaven’s support, my right to education endures.

Despite characteristics I once deemed an obstacle, I now view my hyphens and background as a challenge. With hard work and Leaven’s guidance, my life’s next chapter is written by an opportunity unavailable to those before me – an uncharted road through which I can create my own future and better the lives of others. As I have learned, success is marked by the route, not the destination. I am the in-between.

“With hard work and Leaven’s guidance, my life’s next chapter is written by an opportunity unavailable to those before me.”


Washington University in St. Louis

My parents came to America from Slovakia with high hopes and big dreams. They worked house cleaning and repair jobs, learned English and built a life to ensure a brighter future for me. “Study hard and you’ll have better jobs than we do,” my mother’s Rusyn words echoed in my head. “All your hard work will pay off.”

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But it didn’t feel like hard work. I’ve always wanted to learn and keep on learning. My mom tells me when I was four, the word I uttered most was “why?” Whenever I saw something that stood out, my questions began with “why,” repeated multiple levels deep. Today, even when I arrive at a definitive answer, I still feel there are more “why’s” to be asked.

I’m fascinated by the intricacies of organic chemistry— how carbon-containing compounds are structured, synthesized and reacted upon. As I attend Washington University in St. Louis on full scholarship, I aspire to be a pharmaceutical research chemist focusing on drug research, design and development using naturally occurring substances. With Leaven’s assistance, my tools for success will be forged through education. My labors will be intellectual.

While I once felt limited by financial circumstance, I now realize I’m fortified by the hurdles I’ve overcome with my family. Through education, I can give back to my parents who sacrificed their dreams so I could pursue mine. Equipped with an inquisitive mind, a desire to give back and Leaven’s support, I set out to heal. A lifelong journey of learning awaits me.

“With Leaven’s assistance, my tools for success will be forged through education. My labors will be intellectual.”


Boston University

I have two sides – my quantitative side and my creative side. On one side, I take classes like Physics, Multivariate Calculus and Differential Equations. On the other, I play bass with symphonic orchestras, jazz bands and a rock band formed in high school. Both sides don’t simply co-exist, they harmonize.

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Music and math are, and will always be, central parts of my life. So much so that I’m pursuing a multi-layered academic and career path, coupling mechanical engineering with music engineering, with a concentration in acoustic and electronic instrument design.

An interdisciplinary undergraduate education is the catalyst to so many other life opportunities – a doctorate degree, an intellectually captivating job and a stable salary that supports my future family and community. However, my ability to embark on this path of opportunity was nearly thwarted at the outset due to a lack of funds and support. Because my family struggles with financial instability, I didn’t have the resources to fully explore college options, pay application fees, send test score reports and do so many other necessary steps in the college admissions process.

But I refused to allow my family circumstances to delineate me. A challenge is a challenge, be it in music, school or life. It simply asks you to find another route forward, which I ultimately did.

With Leaven’s college advising and financial assistance, I applied for and received the Richard D. Cohen Scholarship at Boston University, a full scholarship awarded to ten BU undergraduates across all schools and class years. At BU, I can continue to be an interdisciplinary problem-solver.

I am my own instrument. What beautiful music will I create next?

“I have two sides – my quantitative side and my creative side. Both sides don’t simply co-exist, they harmonize.”


Williams College

I am not underprivileged. I am not impoverished. I am low-income. I am powerful.

It’s taken me a long time to understand these concepts and appreciate the weight that rests on my shoulders. I am the product of various seemingly contradictory forces: a citizen of Peru and now also the United States; formerly under-resourced, now on full scholarship; first-generation college student, now at Williams College. Prestige without pedigree.

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Leaven has effectively changed my life trajectory, but it’s up to me to forge my way forward, with the tools and guidance Leaven provides. I am now double majoring in Economics and Japanese at Williams. The route to my future is not entirely clear, but this is nothing new to me. I am charting my own course. Along the way, I am giving to others, the same way others have helped me. Currently, I am a certified Volunteer Income Tax Assistant for the rural and under-resourced. Outside of tax season, I serve for Converging Worlds, a student organization working to break the school-to-prison pipeline for low-income black and Hispanic youth. Last summer, I worked as an Investment Analyst Intern for Partners HealthCare, a non-profit healthcare system dedicated to community health. Next, I’ll be an Intern Research Associate at Wellington Management Company, a private, independent investment management firm.

One path of possibility opens another. Work begets work. But I am undaunted.

Sometimes, I wonder: “What is my potential? Why are people willing to risk so much on me?” As my training in economics reminds me, there is no such thing as a free lunch. I am an investment, an individual who carries the weight of a better future.

“I am not underprivileged. I am not impoverished. I am low-income. I am powerful.”