Taiwo Adefiyiju, Providence College, RI
Opening Doors is a new Today’s News series that profiles students who are succeeding in college with the help of financial aid, and the financial aid professionals that help them. Have a student and FAA to nominate? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff
In pursuit of a better life than her own for her young twins, Taiwo Adefiyiju’s mother moved her family from London, England, to Providence, Rhode Island when her children were in grade school.
But the American Dream was far from handed to Taiwo and her twin, Kenny. The twins ended up at Mount Pleasant High School, where many students are low-income and where, according to Taiwo, adult support was often hard to find.
“I had a lot of teachers tell me I wasn’t going to succeed; I wasn’t going to make it far,” she said. “In poor neighborhoods, a lot of students are not disciplined. Teachers almost saw me as one of the bad guys.”
Taiwo channeled their doubts into motivation. After years of hard work –both during the school year and over the summer—she graduated at the top of her class.
“My mom brought us to this country just so we could have a better education, so I wasn’t going to screw that up—not only for her, but for myself,” Taiwo said. “I want to better my life.”
Volunteers with the Brown University College Advising Corps showed her one way to do so: by applying to college and for financial aid. With their guidance, Taiwo, a first-generation college student, learned how to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and how to appeal for more financial aid to one of her top-choice institutions.
She didn’t need to ask for additional help at one school, though. Enclosed with her acceptance letter to Providence College was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship– good for free tuition for four years.
“I was just shocked – I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I thought you had to apply [for scholarships]; it literally just said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted with a full ride.’”
The MLK, Jr. Scholarship selection process involves collaboration between Providence College’s admissions and financial aid staffs, the school’s financial aid director, Sandra Oliveira, said. Admissions officers first comb applications for students who have excelled in leadership positions and who would bring a unique perspective to the college community. From that pool, financial aid administrators identify students with financial need, and ultimately select about 25 recipients per year.
“These candidates have really risen to the top with something unique, and then we try to identify the students that would also benefit from the financial aid component,” Oliveira said.
It’s one of several institutional scholarships Providence offers, Oliveira added.
“We as an institution offer over $60 million to students annually in institutional resources, coupled with other need-based opportunities from federal and state funding to allow students to consider meeting the cost of Providence College,” she said.
With her tuition bill met, Taiwo enrolled at Providence, and now serves as a resident advisor to cover her room and board costs. When she struggled with the transition to college, she looked to financial aid and admissions advisors for support.
“Freshman year, I wanted to leave. College was new to me, and it was very overwhelming being with students who got everything they wanted and who can pay for their textbooks at full price—I have to work hard for everything I get,” she said. “The head of my scholarship program said, ‘Are you going to let it defeat you, or are you going to overcome this?’”
Taiwo chose the latter – and is now intent on showing other students that they can do the same. She created a mentor program for high school juniors and seniors who may not know that college can be an option, and returns to her high school to tutor and to encourage other students. She’s even working with Providence College’s admissions officers to host seminars on campus that will give students a feel for college and will teach them about financial aid and SAT prep, among other topics.
“It’s a remarkable thing for a student who is incredibly involved in campus and then dedicates even more time to work with students,” said Oliveira, who has worked with Taiwo to address textbook costs.
Taiwo’s main message to high schoolers? Prove the naysayers wrong.
“I share my experience in terms of people telling me I’m never going to succeed,” she said. “A lot of them hear that every day, and that can be really overwhelming. I tell them to use those negative comments as their motivation to prove them wrong.”
Taiwo and her twin brother Kenny, who is succeeding with the help of financial aid at the University of Rhode Island, have done just that. As a junior, Taiwo is already investigating graduate schools in hopes of securing admission to a master’s program in higher education. Ultimately, she’d like to work in student affairs, building on her experience of promoting college access and completion.
“It was a long road, but I’m very happy in the place I am today,” she said. “I hope to continue to give back to these programs that helped me.”
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