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Thirteen young men and women stand in two rows and smile at the camera. They all wear grey polo shirts, and some have their arms crossed or their hands on their hips.
Students from the first cohort of the Wells Fargo Academic Leaders Fellowship Program met for a summer institute and program orientation in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Exposing students to ‘what becoming an adult and having a job means’

Twenty college students are participating in the first Wells Fargo Academic Leaders Fellowship Program, receiving a full scholarship, leadership development, and other resources.

February 5, 2019

Anastasia Onyango hopes to become a doctor and give back to other patients like herself. Kayleigh Paddock is interested in studying environmental toxicology to help people on the Navajo reservation where she grew up. Jaden Redhair also hopes to help the Navajo Nation with a degree in engineering or public health.

These are just three of the first cohort of 20 students who are a part of the Wells Fargo Academic Leaders Fellowship Program. The program provides full scholarships for up to five years for Pell Grant-eligible high school seniors who are in good academic standing. It is designed to promote their academic excellence and leadership development throughout college.

“We wanted to take the fear of year-to-year funding off the table,” said Jimmie Paschall, head of Enterprise Diversity & Inclusion and Strategic Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “We are investing not only in education, but the wraparound experiences that will hopefully create a sense of the transformative role Wells Fargo will play to help them follow their dreams. We’re working to expose them in a holistic way to what becoming an adult and having a job means.”

The program was funded by a grant from Wells Fargo and is administered by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships and support services to as many Hispanic American students as possible. In addition to receiving funding for the full cost of attendance that is not already covered by other grants and scholarships for up to five years, students also receive support services and resources.

“We are investing not only in education, but the wraparound experiences that will hopefully create a sense of the transformative role Wells Fargo will play to help them follow their dreams. We’re working to expose them in a holistic way to what becoming an adult and having a job means.”

— Jimmie Paschall

The fellows first gathered for a summer institute and program orientation in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they met each other and with team members from Wells Fargo and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. They also participated in financial education, mentorship, and team-building activities, while learning about maximizing their scholarship and landing their dream internship.

“Wells Fargo had a vision, and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund helped it come to fruition,” said President and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Fidel Vargas. “This is an unbelievable opportunity for these students. The intention of the program was to provide a comprehensive, holistic program for college and career achievement while addressing the most significant issues students encounter during their journey to and through college — financial insecurity, high-debt accumulation, and lack of mentoring and career development. This program provides more than just a scholarship. It provides the support services to ensure these Fellows graduate within four years, without student debt, and are financially secure and gainfully employed.”

‘I could offer them more than treatment’

Onyango, 19, is from Marietta, Georgia, and is attending Harvard University. After having a heart condition when she was younger and not always having access to health insurance, she hopes to give back to others and become an oncologist. “I know individuals are vulnerable,” Onyango said. “They’re in a traumatic experience already. If I could be the one treating them, I could offer them more than treatment — more emotional support, given my background and experiences.”

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She said receiving the fellowship allows her to focus more on her academics. “I’m always worried about money,” Onyango said. “Now I can treat myself more, engage in things I normally wouldn’t that are essential to my mental and physical health. Wells Fargo has really given me peace of mind. Poverty is generational and cyclical. It’s hard to break the cycle, even after college, because you might not have financial literacy. What Wells Fargo is doing is stopping that trend and providing resources and knowledge to allow our family name to be different. Now Wells Fargo is helping generations after us.”

While Onyango said she was pretty familiar with budgeting, since she helps with that task in her family, she said the summer institute taught her different ways to start saving for retirement at a young age. She said she appreciates the financial literacy training, in addition to the other services and networking the program provides. “It’s comforting to know I have the support system,” Onyango said. “Sometimes help is more money-focused. Wells Fargo has recognized there are still resources you need outside of the money. I’ve appreciated that.”

‘I am representing my people in a positive way’

When Redhair, 19, received an email from Wells Fargo about the fellowship program, he decided to apply — and he’s glad he did. “I come from a low-income family and am trying to look for every opportunity to further my education,” said Redhair, who is from Window Rock, Arizona. “It’s a really hard scholarship to get, and being the first in my family to go to college, I am extremely grateful. It means a lot, because I don’t have to worry too much about finances. I can worry about school and where to take my life.”

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He is currently attending Stanford University, where he hopes to pursue electrical engineering and maybe work for NASA one day. “What really pushes me to exceed and attend Stanford is my native heritage,” said Redhair, who is Navajo. “I represent a small percentage of the population of the world, and I’m proud to claim that. I am representing my people in a positive way.”

At the summer institute, Redhair said he enjoyed networking with his peers and professionals. “Sharing different interests has been eye-opening for me,” Redhair said. “I’ve been told some people might be contacts later in life. That’s really important to me.” He said he also appreciated learning about budgeting, handling finances, and saving for retirement — areas he had never considered before.

‘I needed to fill my educational cravings’

Paddock, 19, is from Tuba City, Arizona, and is attending Dartmouth College, something that few have done at the Navajo reservation where she is from. “I’m the first in my family to up and leave to go to college across the country,” Paddock said.

Paddock felt like her educational resources had been limited in high school, with only a few Advanced Placement courses and no band program, music classes, or in-person chemistry classes. “I wanted to go to a university that would challenge me,” Paddock said. “I needed to fill my educational cravings.”

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At Dartmouth, she hopes to study environmental toxicology so that that she can help the Navajo Nation. “Uranium mines were left decades ago,” Paddock said. “It is something that directly affected where I’m from. I know elders who suffer from lung and stomach cancer. I want to study uranium and find ways that will help, because there are still buildings and water sources that contain it.”

She is also interested in pursuing medicine to help with the environmental consequences of uranium, especially for people who have to travel far to receive treatment. “Either way, I know I’ll come back to help.”

While waiting to find out if she was accepted into the fellowship program, Paddock refreshed her email constantly. When she saw the word “congratulations,” she started screaming. “It was pure bliss,” Paddock said. “It meant my parents didn’t have to worry about anything, and it’s taken a huge weight off of their shoulders. I’m grateful.”

She said she has also appreciated networking with other fellows in the program. “There will be tough times we will encounter, and knowing we have students like ourselves for support is really comforting,” Paddock said. “This scholarship not only gave me the funds I needed, but it also gave me the confidence boost I needed going into my freshman year of college.”

Contributors: Christopher Frers