WHEN WE WERE IN OUR TEENS, we used to babysit for $5 an hour. With the money we saved, we eventually bought ourselves three things—a laptop each and the complete Harry Potter Lego set. But even if we had saved that money, we would never have had enough to go anywhere but a community college. When we were accepted into U-M in 2007, we were shocked and delighted that we each received two scholarships: one from the College of Engineering and the LEAD Scholarship from the Alumni Association. We had not applied for either, but could now consider going to a prestigious university without the burden of insurmountable debt. By Christmas, we had both enrolled.
Katie chose to major in electrical engineering, and Jill chose mechanical engineering with an electrical engineering minor. We immediately received constant invitations to the Alumni Center. At first, we were shy and hesitant. Over time, though, we realized the Alumni Association simply wanted to be there for us. The staff who oversee the program became like family.
As members of the first class of LEAD Scholars, we have watched the program transform. Each year, a new class of scholars brings energy and diversity to the program. That energy translated into our school life. Jill worked a variety of jobs around campus, including research. Katie’s roster included rowing. The LEAD scholarship helped us realize that diversity is not just about someone’s heritage, but also the choices someone makes in life. We are female Hispanic engineers who like to spend our time in a million different ways.
Graduation can be a daunting milestone. When we went out into the workforce in 2012—Jill to General Motors and Katie to Nissan Motor Company—we had to adjust. Katie remembers being intimidated by her more experienced colleagues. But soon she realized her peers respected and trusted her implicitly because of her Michigan degree. She now contributes in earnest.
Through LEAD, we still have people at the Alumni Association supporting us. Although our scholarship expired, we are still a part of the community.
Learn more about the LEAD Scholars program at umalumni.com/LEAD.