"Look back on your experiences and look at the program or department that has helped you most. If you feel like your education was worthy I would encourage you to donate to that cause."
At age 16, Isaac Yglesias, '15, took a political science class at Holyoke Community College at the same time he was being home schooled in Northampton by his mother and grandparents. He balanced his home studies with the opportunity to try out a small slice of college life on a local campus.
The brief learning encounter, for which he earned an "A," piqued his interest in pursuing a degree in higher education. Two years later, in 2012, Yglesias enrolled full time and delved into liberal arts and other classes that would provide him with a well-rounded community college experience.
At HCC, Yglesias said, he evolved into a dedicated learner and became passionate about his studies, earning an associate degree with high honors.
Today, he remains grateful for the education and positive overall experiences he gained at HCC. Upon graduation, Yglesias received a $1,000 gift from his grandfather, who asked him to donate the money to a charity of his choice. He picked the HCC Foundation.
"I felt like the college did so much for me with all the student support, classes, and connecting with professors. I felt like you guys deserved it the most," he said.
In choosing HCC for college, Yglesias said he was drawn to joining a community that would serve his needs for the future, in an atmosphere where he would feel comfortable. Other home-schooled students he knew praised HCC as a smart first step.
"I had a good feeling about starting at HCC," he said. "A lot of faculty were willing to help me learn and train me for my future."
Irma Medina, senior coordinator of the Pathways Program, noticed Yglesias's achievements in the classroom and encouraged him to participate in the program. Pathways helps promising students succeed at HCC and connects them with transfer opportunities to competitive four-year colleges and universities. It also offers workshops, college visits, academic advising and help with the transfer process.
"I was pleasantly surprised that they were actively recruiting me," Yglesias said.
Yglesias also took advantage of HCC's Center for Academic Program Support (CAPS), which offers free tutoring and study-skills workshops.
Through Pathways, Yglesias identified Brandeis University as the place where he wanted to continue his education after HCC. Medina helped him pick classes that would match well with similar educational opportunities at Brandeis.
Once he had Brandeis on his radar, Yglesias said, his "inner drive kicked in."
"I was attentive, participating in class and doing my assignments studiously and on time because I had this goal," he said. "My drive helped me carry out these common-sense objectives."
This spring, Yglesias will complete his first year at Brandeis, where he is pursuing a major in International Studies.
Although newly minted graduates often don't have a lot of money, Yglesias said he would encourage them to financially support HCC, no matter the size of the donation, so future students will have similar opportunities to learn and pursue their goals.
"Look back on your experiences and look at the program or department that has helped you most," he said. "If you feel like your education was worthy I would encourage you to donate to that cause."