Luz MercadoCTY Scholar Luz Mercado first set her sights on college in sixth grade, when she and her parents went on a class field trip to Pomona College. 
 
Her parents are from Guadalajara, Mexico, and speak little English. No one in her family had ever gone to college, but the campus tour suddenly made it seem possible. 
 
“That was a turning point, when my family said, ‘Yes, we think you could do this,’” Luz said. 
 
She’s been working to prove them right ever since. 
 
In eighth grade, she was selected for the CTY Scholars Program, a four-year scholarship program through which underrepresented students take CTY’s summer, online, and family programs, and receive academic and college advising. Luz spent CTY summer sessions at Lafayette, Haverford, and Princeton, taking courses in zoology; biotechnology; and science, technology, and public policy. She also took an online AP Statistics course.
 
“The program has really helped me develop my STEM skills and my confidence in what I can do,” Luz said.
 
She said the academic guidance has been invaluable. “My adviser, Monica Garcia, has been incredible,” she said. “She’s always looking into scholarships and telling me, ‘You should apply for this.”  
Mercado family pic
Luz Mercado (second from left) on a sixth-grade school field trip to Pomona College with her dad, Ignatio; mom, Margharita; and little sisters, Alina and Ariana.
 
Luz volunteers at her church, and at school, where she has tutored fellow students in math since freshman year. She’s taken 12 Advanced Placement courses, carries a 4.63 GPA, and is class valedictorian. 
 
“She’s such a bright girl and she’s been a hard worker since day one,” Garcia said. “Her humility also makes her exceptional.”
 
This spring, Luz was accepted to 11 colleges and universities, including Brown, Stanford, Georgetown, Columbia, and UCLA. Even more impressive: she was offered nearly $1 million in scholarships. 
 
“Ultimately, I chose Stanford, not only because it’s such an incredible institution—especially for me since I want to pursue a career in medicine— but because I would be close to the love and support of my family,” Luz said. 
 
But still, there were still costs she feared her family wouldn’t be able to afford. 

Then a few weeks ago, a thick envelope arrived in her mailbox. Luz’s parents and sisters gathered around to watch her open it. 
 
“Congratulations,” it said, and informed her she’d been chosen as a 2016 Gates Millennium Scholar. The highly competitive program covers unmet expenses and offers academic support to minority students who plan to study disciplines in which minority groups are underrepresented, like engineering, education, mathematics, and the sciences.
 
“It was super emotional—we were all crying,” Luz said. “What this means for my family is that I can go to college and it’s paid for, and if I want to go on to med school, I can. The sky’s the limit. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”—Katy Bowman