It Starts With Me…

a montage of scholarsThe Magnolia Scholars program carries the legacy of “Old Wake Forest. ” When Wake Forest opened, it was an Eastern North Carolina, white, male, Baptist college. Virtually all of the students were from farms and small towns, many were first generation college students. They left Wake Forest with grand ambitions to serve the larger state, regional, and national community, building our institutional reputation with their deeds.  Though we are now a nationally ranked university with a richly diverse population, we are still that same small school at heart. The first generation students that built Wake Forest will always be a special population here.

A Magnolia Scholar Story: Taylor Seiple

At first, Taylor Seiple assumed the Magnolia Scholarship was simply a tremendous means to a life-changing end: a Wake Forest education. And then she discovered it meant even more: an achievement, a distinction and a community unto itself.

“It absolutely makes my identity here,” she said.

The process starts when Magnolia Scholars arrive for their own orientation to their new home. They meet with the mentors who will help guide their four years with outreach programs that address their specific needs as first-generation college students, and the experience forges tight bonds between members of each incoming class.

Seiple, raised by a single mother in Concord, NC, felt that tie immediately. It was so meaningful that, the following year, she became a peer advisor to a small group of Magnolia Scholars in the Class of 2019. Her message to her five advisees was simple: “You are here for a reason, and you belong.”

When Seiple sees fellow Magnolia Scholars on campus, she stops to chat or – if time is short – at least reciprocates a nod or other recognition.

Her supportive engagement stems in part from the example of her mom, who works in a nursing home, and from her own work in retail. She has had the same job in the massive Concord Mills mall since her junior year in high school.

“It’s interesting in itself because you get reactions from people and you have to answer questions – even as a part-time worker,” Seiple said. “People interact with you as if you’re the manager.”

All this thinking on her feet and interaction with customers has, in turn, helped her identify professional goals. A Sociology major with a concentration in business issues, Seiple intends to become a human-relations executive. To get there, she will attend a summer business management program and perhaps work an internship in the Silicon Valley.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she plans on earning a Master of Arts in Management degree, another program in which Wake Forest is a national leader.

“I love working with people, and I think that will help me get where I need to be,” she said.

But she won’t forget her family within the larger Wake Forest family, a group of committed students with common experiences and extraordinary support from benefactors.

“The Magnolia Scholars bond is really important,” Seiple said. “There’s so much power in it. We all have a mutual understanding of what we’re a part of.”

A Magnolia Scholar Story: Megan Blackstock

Between academics, a campus internship, a teaching assistant’s duties and volunteer work with two organizations, Megan Blackstock’s weeks are packed tighter than a carry-on travel bag. But while she does all that juggling, the junior Biochemistry major has her eye on a future that is just as aligned with Wake Forest’s Pro Humanitate motto as her present.

The daughter of a truck driver and a tax administrator, Blackstock grew up in rural Rockingham County, NC, in which people 18 and older graduate from college at less than half the rate of those in the rest of the state.

Seeking greater academic rigor, she transferred from her local high school to the prestigious North Carolina School of Science and Math. While that prepared her for college work, it didn’t help her afford Wake Forest.

“My parents and I sat down,” Blackstock recalled, “and they said, ‘You’re going to have to figure this out.’ Without Magnolia Scholars and my other scholarships, I would not be here.”

And once here, Blackstock discovered the culture of faculty-student academic collaboration that defines the Wake Forest experience. She was able to study in London thanks to Magnolia Scholars programming support that supplements general financial aid.

And she threw herself into volunteer work with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina and the Salvation Army’s Hope Center, in which she tutors homeless schoolchildren from first through fourth grade.

“The greatest moments,” she said, “are when they come up to me and hug me. I like being there for those kids.”

As for the future, Blackstock intends to meld the entirety of her Wake Forest experience into a career of service. Since her first trip to the dentist as a child, in which the dentist took the edge off an impending tooth-pulling with his friendly manner, Blackstock has wanted to go into that field. Her classwork in biochemistry will make her an attractive candidate for dental school, to which she will apply in the coming months for 2018 enrollment. Her liberal-arts education has helped her engage with her fellow students. Her community-service work has put her in touch with underserved populations.

“I want to own my own practice with an emphasis on kids in need,” she said. “I want to go back to Rockingham County, and I want to serve that community.”

And the need is profound. According to the 2010 census estimates, only four dentists live in Rockingham County, population 93,000. That’s one for every 23,250 people – more than 11 times the national average. Blackstock aims to do her part to improve that.

A Magnolia Scholar Story: Emeli Marroquin

Emeli Marroquin has not planned her life after Wake Forest just yet. There are still mountains to hike, people to meet and classes to take. But this much is a solid bet: She will take on new challenges and overcome them.

Marroquin, the only member of her El Salvadoran family born in the United States, has taken a practical approach to her time at Wake Forest. Mindful of and grateful for the opportunities the Magnolia Scholars program has provided her, she also appreciates the value of self-reliance.

“It’s all about how involved you want to be in Magnolia Scholars,” she said. “Even though they tell you about a lot of things, it’s up to you – inside or outside of the program.”

Marroquin came to Wake Forest from Burlington, NC, about an hour away from campus but considerably farther in academic expectation.

One thing that helps with focus is her campus job, in which she checks on classrooms at 7 a.m. every Monday through Thursday to ensure technology is in working order. Getting up at that hour helps provide structure that’s conducive to productivity.

Along those lines, Marroquin has been determined to maximize her opportunities – specifically in foreign study. Institutional resources exist to help mitigate the cost of attendance abroad but every student has to have a plan about what to study and where. Marroquin’s was to learn about European economics in Spain.

“You also get to learn so much of the culture – the food, how people are, so many other things,” she said.

In the summer of 2017, she took the proactive step of looking into the School of Business’ Summer Management Program, a five-week “business boot camp” designed to supplement liberal arts majors’ education and increase their future marketability. In the application process, however, she realized she needed help in putting down the deposit to secure her spot. And that’s where the Magnolia Scholars administration came forward to make it happen.

Marroquin has taken a leadership role in the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS). Serving as social director, she has committed to increasing OLAS’ integration with other student groups on campus. She has also participated in community-outreach events with local schools.

In her final year at Wake Forest, Marroquin intends to broaden her horizons by participating in the recently enhanced Outdoor Pursuits program. Her goal is to go on a hiking trip to see new places and take on a new challenge.

Come May 2018, she will be embraced by a family swelling with pride over her achievements.

She is intrigued by the possibility of following the lead of a grandmother who owned her own business in El Salvador. No matter what, she vows she won’t lose her drive or vision.

“I know I don’t want to stop,” she said. “I want to keep doing more. I know I will have finished a chapter, but I will keep going.”

A Magnolia Scholar Story: Alex Reyes


Maybe it was when she gave her family a tour of the Wake Forest campus that first time. Or maybe it was the day she first walked into the Manhattan headquarters of PriceWaterhouseCoopers as an intern. Alex Reyes isn’t quite sure when the enormity of her family’s story and her place in it first struck her, but it is more resonant than ever.

Before they had met, Reyes’ parents moved separately from their native Dominican Republic so their descendants wouldn’t have to haul buckets of water for two round-trip miles each day. It is now fair to say Alex is more than carrying her load and has plans to keep doing so.

“Immigrants tend to be criminalized, and obviously, that’s not true,” she said. “Politicians should realize that immigrants want to come to the U.S. for a better opportunity – especially like my father – for their children. We’re hard-working, and we just want a better chance at education.”

The native of the New York City metropolitan area was just about to head to her high school graduation ceremony in 2014 when she opened an email that detailed the extent of her Magnolia Scholarship to Wake Forest. The news made a happy day even more joyful.

“Out of all the schools I applied to, Wake Forest was the only one that had a program for First Generation students,” she said. “That was surprising. It was also surprising to see how much they had offered me in scholarships, too.”

Upon arriving, Reyes took a deep-dive into faculty-mentored research in Sociology that landed her a summer opportunity in Birmingham, AL, centered around immigration legislation. She spoke with activists, lawyers, police officers and anybody else who would talk, and she presented her findings on campus a few months later.

“It made me feel like my work was meaningful,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t helping the cause directly, I had a voice and I was helping the voiceless have a voice in all of this.”

Mindful of strangers’ philanthropy and her parents’ struggles, Reyes remains determined to maximize her time on a weekly basis. She has volunteered as a tutor for children in Math and English through El Buen Pastor, a local nonprofit; mentored disabled children through Helping Overcome Physical Expectations, a student group for which she has served as treasurer; chaired the campus membership efforts of Nourish International, which funneled support to Rwanda; remotely mentored a Rwandan high school student; and helped introduce three Chinese students to Wake Forest.

When not directly helping the world, she has seen it. During a semester in Barcelona, Spain, Reyes was able to travel on weekends to Madrid, Rome, London, Amsterdam, Montserrat, Morocco and the Sahara Desert, where she rode a camel and saw the sun rise.

She worked for PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 2016 and earned a return a year later. The news that her daughter had an opportunity in a promising career field moved Reyes’ mom to tears.

The scene is likely to repeat itself in 2018, when Reyes anticipates graduating with a degree in Sociology and a Business concentration.

Magnolia Scholar to Featured Graduate

20150507linnet2986Linnet Hennkens-Cruz is one of 17 graduates featured for the Wake Forest University 2015 Commencement. Linnet majored in Spanish and plans to work as a legal interpreter and freelance as a translator for a year in Arizona. Afterwards, she plans to attend law school and become an international or immigration lawyer.

Magnolia Scholar to Fulbright Finalist

Araceli Morales-Santos (’14) is one of nine Wake Forest recent graduates and alumni to be selected as a finalist for the US Student Fulbright Program. Araceli will be an English Teaching Assistant in Brazil (2016). Good luck and success to Araceli! Read more >>>

A Magnolia Scholar Defines Pro Humanitate

Joseph Belangia, Hit the Bricks

Last weekend, Joseph Belangia was chopping wood in rural Wake County to provide firewood to families in need. A few days before, he raced around Hearn Plaza to raise money for the Brian Piccolo Cancer Fund during Hit the Bricks. Today, he is working to achieve his goal to expand a service project at a local retirement community to 200 volunteers. Click here to read more.

Magnolia Scholars Program Receives 6.5M Gift

Dr. Steve and Mrs. Becky Scott

Dr. Steven and Becky Scott have committed $6.5 million to further the education of first generation college students through Wake Forest’s Magnolia Scholars program. Click here to read the full story

Weaving education, entertainment

The first showing is always the most difficult. Last April, when Wake Forest senior Jawad Wahabzada (’14) premiered his documentary “Children of Kabul” at RiverRun Film Festival, it was to a packed crowd filled with so many faces, he felt a little intimidated. Click here to read more

 

Preparing for your path

When Corynn Kolberg arrived at Wake Forest last August, she was surprised to see a session with the Office of Personal and Career Development (OPCD) on her orientation schedule. After all, she was just a first-year student. Click here to read the full article