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Meet a Minds Matter Student


Courtney is the 2018  Minds Matter Achievement Scholar and a member of Syracuse University’s Class of 2021.

Q: What have you learned from your time with Minds Matter?

Courtney: I have learned how to grow better decision-making skills, especially during big transitional times in my life, such as college. Also, Minds Matter has truly taught me that I am never really alone, and I can always rely on the people around me.

 Q: What has been your favorite Minds Matter moment?

Courtney: My favorite Minds Matter moment has to be graduation. It was bittersweet, but it was so nice to see that all of my peers who had gone through this journey with me were taking another step forward in their lives as well. It was great to celebrate all of our successes together and truly support one another.

Q: If you could give any piece of advice to a sophomore starting at Minds Matter, what would it be?

Courtney: My biggest piece of advice to a sophomore at Minds Matter is to take a chance on every opportunity that is presented to you. You never know the amazing things that you could learn or the great people you could meet. It will also allow you to discover much more about yourself than you would have originally thought.

Q: Where are you going to college and what are you hoping to study?

Courtney: I’m attending Syracuse University in the Whitman Leadership Scholars program and intend to study Marketing.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in college?

Courtney: I’m most looking forward to gaining a sense of independence in college, where I’m finally fully in control of my schedule and am able to be challenged with making decisions.

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Meet a Minds Matter Student


Leslie is a hard-working and enthusiastic junior. She talks with us about her passions, overcoming hardships, and her drive to succeed. 

Q: What is your favorite part about Minds Matter?

Leslie: In Minds Matter I am constantly reminded of my capability. The community that has been built for us is a lovely blessing. Volunteers come to work with us and challenge us in order to go beyond our limits. They believe that we are capable of much more than we ourselves think. They are always there for us when we need them. They motivate us to work hard in school and support us in order to be college ready and pursue our dreams. They push us to try new things and hand us the resources we need in order to succeed in our journey.

 Q: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome?

Leslie: The hardest thing I’ve had to overcome is the loss of my mother in her battle with cancer. It happened so quickly that until this day it seems unreal. My mom is my motivation, role model and my strength to move forward and take myself and my dad out of the darkness we live in. When I look into my father’s eyes, all I see is hope and sacrifice. Hope that one day we will achieve the American Dream. Sacrifice because he works every day for long hours to pay the bills that lead to stress and frustration. He inspires me to strive in my education and standout. Both of my parents have built the person that I am today.

Q: What is your favorite subject in school?

Leslie: In school I have gravitated towards the power of math and I have developed a passion for art. This has inspired me to become an architect. I am fascinated by the work that can be done by combining math and art. Opportunities offered to low income students like myself at Minds Matter will benefit me in pursuing a career in architecture.

Q: What is an interesting fact about you?

Leslie: An interesting fact about me is that I have a passion for dancing, especially Salsa.

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Meet a Minds Matter Student!

Emely is an inspiring Senior from Bushwick who spoke at our Brilliant Minds Benefit last Thursday! She interns at Columbia University, plays volleyball, and wants to go into the medical field.

Q: What do you like most about Minds Matter?

Emely: There are three things. First, the mentors you’re paired with. These are amazing people that help you become a better writer, person, and eventually, candidate for college. Second are the opportunities: through Minds Matter, I’ve started interning at Columbia University doing biomedical research, and I had the opportunity to go abroad this summer. This kind of opportunity is not so common among people in my community; sometimes it just feels surreal. Third, it gives you a second family. You spend almost all your high school years working with your team of mentors and you create a strong bond with them.

Q: Where did you go for your Summer Program? What did you learn?

Emely: After my Sophomore year, I went to Philips Academy in Andover. It’s a five-week academic enrichment program held at a boarding school; you get to choose your own classes and play sports as well. I took chemistry and speech and debate. It was just amazing. The best part was being able to interact with people from every corner of the world. The girls I hung out with were from Brazil and Spain, but we were able to be friends and we still talk to this day.

Q: What would you tell a freshman who was interested in applying for Minds Matter?

Emely: Although it may sound like waking up on a Saturday to go to school is a lot of work, I believe that hard work pays off, and if you want to go somewhere and want to be somebody in life, then you have to work towards it. Right now, education is really important in our lives, and getting into college is really big – as our schools and parents are always reminding us. Getting into Minds Matter can open doors and help you become the person you ultimately want to be.

Q: Where is your favorite place in NYC? Why?

Emely: Brooklyn, and more specifically, Bushwick. It was the first place I lived after moving to the United States from the Dominican Republic, and I learned a lot about my culture there, and a lot about other cultures. It’s the place I was raised and learned how to speak English, and I know it inside and out. And even though there’s all this change happening in the borough, Bushwick has maintained its urban atmosphere. We are also experiencing change, but overall, people embrace Bushwick for what it is.

Q: What do you do when you’re not in school?

Emely: When not in school, I’m usually interning at Columbia or playing sports.  I play volleyball and basketball for my school and softball for a league, where I play shortstop and I pitch. At Columbia, I intern on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a geneticist who’s in grad school focusing on the nervous system. I go right after school and I’m usually there until 7:30 p.m. I want to be a doctor someday, but now I’m torn between pursuing a medical career and going into research.

Interview by a Writing & Critical Thinking Advisor

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Meet a Minds Matter Student!

Tamara is a Senior who loves exploring NYC, dissecting animals at the University of Michigan, and wants to meet Brandon Stanton.

Q: What do you like most about Minds Matter?

Tamara: I like that in Minds Matter, they really keep you on track and prepared for what’s ahead. As much as Writing & Critical Thinking and Test Prep may be a pain, at the end of the day it makes me stronger; not only academically but also as a person. You really see your results, and these are things you can’t get in a classroom.

Q: Where did you go for your Summer Program? What did you learn?

Tamara: I went to the University of Michigan, where I took a Human Anatomy course. The best part was dissecting multiple animals as a way of studying parts of the body. Being in an environment that college students live and work in taught me what I need to do to succeed in a college setting and college classes. What surprised me most was that it never felt like you were alone. You’d think to yourself, “this is going to be super awkward; I don’t have my parents here to help me or tell me what to do,” but being a part of a group of students who are in the same program as you helps you learn how to depend on people other than your family. As a high school student, we don’t get a lot of that.

Q: What would you tell a freshman who was interested in applying for Minds Matter?

Tamara: I think I would tell them that it’s so, so, so worth it. It’s going to be hard, and as a teenager we are going to complain, but the second you walk into college, you’re going to be so happy you did it. It makes you feel accomplished. You see your growth, and throughout the program, you have all this assistance, and all of these people who have the knowledge you need. Minds Matter is a great resource for opportunities: whatever you need help with, you can get help with. It’s not just focused on one thing. Each person gets individual attention; it’s a tailored education.

Q: Where is your favorite place in NYC? Why?

Tamara: I actually don’t have a favorite place in NYC. After I joined Minds Matter, I was exposed to different areas of the city. The program shows you that every single block in Manhattan has something to offer. Anyone can do anything here. For this reason, I don’t have a favorite place, because every time I go somewhere new, I fall in love with another place to discover.

Q: If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?

Tamara: I would have dinner with Brandon Stanton from “Humans of New York” because I feel like he’s one of those celebrities whose product is a celebrity, rather than himself. He’s from New York and he meets all these different people every single day. I would ask him questions like:  On what level has the diversity of New York City influenced you?

Interview by Jenny Lance, Writing & Critical Thinking Advisor

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Meet a Minds Matter Student!

Sainab is a graduated Senior who aspires to be a doctor, give back to her community, and have dinner with Malala. She will be attending Barnard College in the fall. 

Q: What do you like best about Minds Matter?

Sainab: What I like best about Minds Matter is having that support and that network which I‘m really able to benefit from. My school is really small and even though I get that support, Minds Matter is another support system which I can take advantage of. That’s something that is really beneficial because I know people who don’t have that support system at home or even at their school, so Minds Matter has definitely given me the benefit of having that support system.

Also, the Writing and Critical Thinking program has definitely influenced me to become a better writer because my writing skills were not always the best. Having Writing and Critical Thinking has definitely strengthened my writing skills. I’m able to think more analytically, and I’m able to hand in papers where I feel comfortable and I’ve pushed my analytical thinking outside of the box. I recently wrote a mimic piece of ‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid, where she was talking about what she does in her household and she did a Jamaican dialect. I was like, “Ok, I can mimic this into what my mother asks of me in my Nigerian household,” and that piece was really one of my favorite pieces.

Q: Where did you go for your summer program last year? What was the best part about it?

Sainab: Last year I went to Stanford University and that was one of the best experiences ever. It was during the time they had the World Cup so everyone was outside playing soccer, and it was just really open and friendly and at the same time. I was also there for the debates and I took an International Relations course. I’m interested in becoming a doctor and pairing medicine and international affairs together by providing assistance to people that don’t have the adequate medical care. That program gave me the opportunity to learn how global people interact with each other.

Q: What are you planning on studying? Why?

Sainab: I always wanted to become a doctor. I’ve always wanted to provide help to people and be there for them. In order for me to pursue that goal, I would have to major in one of the sciences like Biology or Chemistry. I also have the goal of going to Nigeria where my parents are from and providing people with adequate medical care because I know many third world countries are suffering from lack of medical care. That’s why I’m interested in Doctors Without Borders and that’s where the International Relations come into play. I’m very interested in giving back to the community in any way I can.

Q: If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?

Sainab: If I could have dinner with one famous person, I think it would be Malala, because she represents women worldwide. I feel like women do have a voice and we do need to blossom and get out of that hole that society puts us in. And Malala is definitely doing that; she’s definitely fighting for women to be educated and have jobs. So, if I were to have dinner with Malala, I would talk about solutions for us women to be empowered and for us to have a voice in society. Now, if you look at businesses, women are being underrepresented in medicine and it’s mainly males in that field. I would also ask her opinion on how to get women in different job forces to feel represented.

Q: Where do you find your strength?

Sainab: I find my strength in my mom. Just seeing her struggle from when she was in Nigeria and for my family to come to America. In life, education is important for her and she did not fulfill that requirement. So I think of it as a puzzle piece: she makes up all of those components and that one puzzle piece that she is missing is an education. And I know that I can fill in that puzzle piece for her by going to college, by graduating and becoming successful.

Interview by Brittany Crowell, Writing & Critical Thinking Advisor

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Meet a Minds Matter Student!

Leonel is a Junior who loves writing, books, and Simon & Garfunkel. 

Q: What do you like best about Minds Matter?

Leonel: What I like best about Minds Matter is the support and the love from the volunteers and everyone who is a part of it. It’s hard to get my mind around it sometimes: so many people who want us to be successful and, even though they have jobs and lives, they just volunteer. I don’t know how they do it.

College prep, schoolwork, participating in clubs and volunteering through my school, plus my personal life, can be so overwhelming. But I’m really improving on my SAT work now. I feel much more confident than I did when I was a freshman. Back then, I thought the SAT was like a scary monster under my bed, and now I can challenge it.

Q: Where did you go for your summer program last year? What was the best part about it?

Leonel: Last summer I went to the Iowa Young Writers Studio. I spent two weeks in Iowa City just reading fiction, writing short stories for my classmates to read and approve, and seeing the city. You’d be surprised how modern and chic the city was! There were all these big buildings and stores. I expected corn fields and cows in the streets, but Iowa City is like a miniature New York, with so many people and so much diversity. We saw the house where Kurt Vonnegut lived when he wrote Slaughterhouse Five, we went to used bookstores and I bought so many books that my suitcase was heavy.

Q: What would you tell a freshman who was interested in applying for Minds Matter?

Leonel: I’d tell them that Minds Matter really does help you. Besides the SAT work, you mature and you meet new people. People don’t always understand how great Minds Matter is. Minds Matter is here to prepare you for the real world.

Q: What’s one song you have on repeat right now? Why?

Leonel: It’s not just one song, to be honest: it’s the top 20 hits of Simon and Garfunkel. One of my teachers asked me on Friday if I liked them and I said yes, and he gave me this CD. So from Friday afternoon to like 3 a.m. I just listened to Simon and Garfunkel. I couldn’t get enough! Each song had different beats and rhythms and sounds, and it was so great.

Q: Where is your favorite place in NYC? Why?

Leonel: For me it would be Saint Nicholas Park, near my house (in Harlem). I know there are greater parks, I mean, I’ve been to Central Park, but I have a close connection to this one. I’ve been going there all my life, I’ve explored every corner. It’s home to me — it’s like nature right where I live.

Q: If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?

Leonel: If I just had that one chance, it would be Harper Lee. I would want to talk to her about her life, because she just gave us this one book and then she let it go. I wouldn’t want to ask her too many questions or make her feel uneasy, but I’d just like to ask her, “What have you been doing for the last fifty years?” And I would ask her, “Do you feel that you’re a mockingbird?”

Interview by Alice Griffiths, Writing & Critical Thinking Advisor

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