It Takes Two

Identical twins Karen and Karina Paredes reflect on how LEAD has shaped their journeys at U-M as first-generation college students.
Read time: 4 minutes

Identical twins Karen and Karina Paredes have spent nearly every moment of their lives by each other’s side. When it came time to apply for college, they couldn’t imagine navigating that chapter of life without each other.

For the Paredes sisters, attending college together would take two scholarships from the same school. That is exactly what the LEAD Scholars program offered them.

Karina says that if it weren’t for their LEAD scholarships, the twin sisters likely would not be at the University of Michigan because their single mother wouldn’t have been able to afford to send them both to U-M without scholarship support. Receiving the LEAD scholarship reassured their decision to attend U-M together as some of the first in their family to pursue higher education.

The first-year LEAD Scholars arrived on campus in the fall of 2023 and immediately began exploring their academic goals and personal interests.

Karen is pre-med, studying biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience, and is considering a minor in computer science. She joined a pre-anesthesiologist club to explore different careers in the medical field and Girls Who Code, where she’s met more women in the computer science field.

Karina plans to major in biology, health, and society and attend dental school. She is also exploring a minor in computer science. As an animal lover, she’s joined a pre-veterinary club and volunteers at animal shelters through the Paws of Ann Arbor club.

The Paredes twins are one of 26 pairs of siblings to go through the LEAD Scholars program since its inception in 2008. The two reflected on how LEAD has shaped their journeys to and at U-M as first-generation college students.

My sister thought that LEAD would be a good resource to make our U-M dream possible.

For Karen, the dream has always been the University of Michigan — at least since she was about 10 years old when she visited campus and stayed the night in West Quad.

“I really loved the campus, and I loved the school spirit, and I loved how academic the environment was,” she recalls. Since that visit, this experience is something she’s wanted to share with her twin sister.

After both were accepted to U-M during their senior year of high school, Karina received an email about the LEAD Scholars program.

“My sister thought that LEAD would be a good resource to make our U-M dream possible,” Karen says.

Now, they’re living out that very dream, navigating campus life together. The two live in separate dorms but frequently study together and share meals. Monthly LEAD community meetings and events give them a space to spend time together and with other students who make them feel at home on the Ann Arbor campus.

The LEAD Scholars program was established to help bring the brightest and the best to U-M as a way to create more diverse and enriching campuses for all Wolverines. Since 2008, the program has offered scholarships and extensive community support to more than 758 first-year students who exemplify the program’s four pillars: leadership, excellence, achievement, and diversity. The Paredes twins are proud to be among them.

“It is really nice to have a community of people [in LEAD] who come from different backgrounds,” Karina says, “considering the fact that sometimes it can feel isolating on campus, especially when you don’t have people who are like you.” Outside of LEAD, she says they don’t commonly meet many students on campus who share their same background as low-income, Hispanic, first-generation college students.

Currently, more than 32 percent of LEAD Scholars are first-generation college students. The programming is designed to help these students build community on campus and feel supported as they navigate their higher education. Because of that, Karina thinks “LEAD makes people more comfortable” by helping Scholars like her and Karen realize they aren’t alone with that “isolated feeling” and can share similar experiences.

It’s comforting to all know that these generous donations are covering [the cost of U-M] and alleviating the financial burden on my family.

Events like the annual Women in LEADership gathering allow Karen, Karina, and fellow Scholars to connect with each other and LEAD alums who have become industry leaders.

“That was really inspiring and makes me feel hopeful for the future,” Karina says of her experience at Women in LEADership. “Dental school is very competitive, and sometimes I doubt my abilities, but I feel like that event really inspired me and had me telling myself, like, if they did it, then I can do it too.”

LEAD has been so many things to the Paredes twins, including a path for their future aspirations. They’re thankful for the generous donors who make this program possible.

“It’s comforting to all know that these generous donations are covering [the cost of U-M] and alleviating the financial burden on my family,” Karen says.

For Karina, who plans on applying to U-M’s dental school, LEAD is a “direct pathway” to pursuing that dream because it made it possible for her to attend U-M in the first place.

For Karen, LEAD instills the confidence and inspiration she needs to work towards her goal of medical school.

“In a way, [LEAD] is helping me feel more at ease and more comfortable with saying that I’m pursuing medical school after undergrad … because I’m Hispanic, and [Hispanic] people aren’t as represented in the medical field,” Karen says. “LEAD helps me meet more people with similar backgrounds to me, or at least more minorities.”

Donor support of the LEAD Scholars program makes these experiences possible for the Paredes and all other LEAD Scholars who come through the LEAD community in pursuit of a U-M education. If you’d like to join other Wolverines in supporting our LEAD Scholars, make a gift today.

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