The doors of opportunity opened wide for two Roaring Fork High School (RFHS) seniors, Yahjairi Castillon and Omar Gomez Rodriguez, who were each awarded full four-year QuestBridge National College Match Scholarships.
QuestBridge is a national nonprofit that connects exceptional youth from low-income families with leading colleges. In 2020, they received 16,500 applications from across the country, of which 1,647 students were matched to colleges and awarded scholarships.
At the recommendation of RFHS college counselor Elizabeth Penzel, Castillon and Rodriguez submitted applications in late September. Criteria for the scholarship awards include grades, test scores and an application with written essays, completed short-answer questions and teacher recommendations. They also consider nvolvement in school and community activities.
“Colleges look at being able to see you not only as a student, but as a whole, and they want to see involvement in the community. They want to see that you’re well-rounded and will be able to contribute at their college,” Castillon shared.
On Nov. 1, scholarship finalists were notified. At that point, students chose and ranked their college preferences from QuestBridge participating schools. Then, on Dec. 1, they learned which college had accepted them as a match. Castillon is a National Honor Society member, has served as Student Council president and has mentored freshmen students as a part of the Link Leaders program. She also served as goalie for the Rams’ lacrosse team.
Castillon matched with Claremont McKenna College in California, where she plans to study International Relations. “I’d like to help out communities that are in need,” she told The Sopris Sun. “I think if I were to go into a government major, then I’d be able to do that.” She also intends to continue playing lacrosse.
When she and her family were informed about the scholarship award, “we were all super happy. We were screaming,” she said.
Rodriguez is also a Student Council member, a National Honor Society member, peer tutor and participates in the Valley’s Buddy Program.
He matched with Colorado College in Colorado Springs and will major in biology to pursue a career in the medical field.
Rodriguez said, “My family is very supportive of me, especially my mom has always wanted the best for my siblings and me to pursue higher education and help each other out.”
Castillon and Rodriguez are both Roaring Fork PreCollegiate scholars, which is, according to the local nonprofit’s website, “a college access and preparatory program for highly motivated students who would be the first in their family to go to college.”
Together, the two started the RFHS Student Equity Council this school year, where students talk about making RFHS a more welcoming environment for all students.
Castillon said the club’s formation grew out of a forum held last year, facilitated by RFHS English teacher Carmen McCracken. Castillon noted, “the teacher suggested that we start a club to keep that conversation going.”
She explained, “It’s not just having diversity but also being inclusive,” adding, “It’s about promoting conversations about race, gender and sexuality, and all those topics that a lot of people don’t like to talk about.“
Some students may find the task of applying for scholarships a daunting one. Castillon and Rodriguez encourage others to do so. As Rodriguez shared, “I’d say, take the risk, because you never know.”
Castillon’s words of advice: “Dream big, even if you don’t think that it’s possible. I didn’t think that I was going to get this scholarship at all. Don’t think it’s not possible, just because there’s a chance that it is.” She ended with, “There’s nothing like hoping.”