Valparaiso University Sophomore Honored as Outstanding First-Generation College Student

Independent-Colleges-IndianaValparaiso University sophomore Jonathan Cisneros is the 2013 recipient of a "Realizing the Dream" scholarship from the Independent Colleges of Indiana (ICI).

Funded by the Lilly Endowment since 1989, this annual award honors sophomore, first-generation college students for outstanding academic achievement in the freshman year. The scholarship provides $2,000 toward the tuition and expenses of one student at each of the 31 member institutions of ICI, a non-profit association that works for excellence and choice in higher education for all students.

"It was definitely an honor for me," said Cisneros. "I know there's a campus full of students who deserved it as much as I did."

Cisneros, from Hammond, Ind., is a pre-law student with a political science major and a legal studies emphasis, as well as a German minor. He is the second among his siblings to pursue a college education.

He said he chose to attend Valparaiso University because of its reputation for rigorous academics. "Academics was my first priority," said Cisneros. "I chose Valpo because I had heard so much about how they emphasize academics and because of its prestigious name."

Cisneros credits Valpo's dedicated professors for making his transition to college as a first generation student successful. Among the many instructors who have influenced him, he acknowledged visiting assistant professor of German, Richard Benson, Ph.D., as being particularly encouraging during Cisneros' first year.

"Jon is inquisitive, creative, and a very flexible thinker," said Benson. "These qualities not only make him a great candidate for this scholarship, but they will serve him well in life beyond college."

"He is a great contributor to class discussions, and he is willing to ask important questions — something that in turn helps his fellow students."

In addition to the $2,000 award to the University student, a $1,000 Professional Development Grant is also given to a high school teacher who the student cites as being influential in their decision to attend college. Cisneros nominated James Woozly, Ph.D., principal and professor of advanced biology at Hammond Baptist High School, Hammond, Ind.

"He was my counselor and mentor," Cisneros said of Woozly. "When I first applied to Valpo, he was very supportive. He was one of my role models and someone who anyone at Hammond Baptist High School can look up to."

Cisneros accepted his award at a banquet in November with the 30 other recipients of the scholarship from independent college campuses across Indiana. One out of every three students attending independent colleges in Indiana is a member of the first-generation of her or his family to attend college.