Opportunities are presented both near and far for high school students in the Dean's Future Scholars (DFS) program. For 23 years, this homegrown academic outreach program has served more than 1,500 low-income, first-generation college students in Washoe County. DFS program services have historically centered on mentoring and summer programming, and with the help of Lynn Whetstone, the program has reached new heights.
Whetstone, an Incline Village community member, wanted to provide the same life-changing opportunity that she had to current K-12 students.
"In our multicultural society and world, experiencing other cultures, languages, and countries is much more important these days than when I studied abroad in Turkey many years ago," she said.
Whetstone was instrumental in directing grant funds from the Faces of America program and the National Security Language Initiative for Youth to the DFS program. Faces of America is a diversity scholarship initiative launched in 1995 to reduce the cost barriers of study abroad programs for underrepresented youth in urban areas. On the other hand, the Language Initiative for Youth program focuses on critical foreign language development to promote international cooperation.
Not only did Whetstone connect the DFS program to these funding opportunities, but she also dedicated her own time and financial support to bring this dream to life.
Dean’s Future Scholars Executive Director Mariluz Garcia said she was thrilled when Lynn first brought the idea to DFS in 2019.
"We worked quickly to select six high school students to study abroad in New Zealand, Ghana, Hungary, Costa Rica, Brazil and Argentina," Garcia said. "We were heartbroken when the global pandemic hit, and we saw this amazing opportunity slip away."
All travel was canceled for the summer of 2020, but Whetstone and Garcia remained determined. In addition, two former University faculty members joined the effort. Rita Laden and Janet Usinger volunteered their time to assist with the application and interview process for the following summer program.
After many unknowns, three high school students from Wooster and Hug high schools became the first DFS students to travel internationally in 2022. Monserrath Ramirez-Ramirez, Vanesa Gallegos-Jaimes and Cazandra Gonzalez-Avila studied abroad in Spain for three weeks.
The students immersed themselves in the Spanish culture through travel, language development and engagement with locals. Gonzalez-Avila reflected on the program's impact.
"This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I loved every second of it," she said. "I met the most incredible people and saw the most beautiful places throughout southern Spain. It was an opportunity I had to take."
The three students also had the opportunity to meet and build relationships with fellow participants.
"I met people from different countries, and I enjoyed learning about new cultures. This experience helped me get out of my comfort zone and become more social," Gallegos-Jaimes said.
A current senior at Wooster High School Fernanda Ramos-Rodriguez, expressed her gratitude for the full scholarship for her travels to Turkey through the Language Initiative for Youth program.
"My experience was transformative and unforgettable," she said. "It allowed me to develop the necessary life skills to advance in life, such as adaptability, problem-solving, independence and more. I made new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. Truly, the greatest experience of my life."
Moving forward, the DFS program will work to continue providing access to these opportunities for students. It is through the generous support of donors who make these unique and life-changing experiences possible.
"It is difficult to quantify the overall impact, but when these students returned from their study abroad programs, I immediately noticed a major transformation in their confidence, independence and social connectedness," Garcia said.
The DFS program and Whetstone will continue to prioritize this educational opportunity and welcome other community members' engagement.
The future remains bright as the DFS program has secured five scholarships for students to travel to Japan, Spain and Germany in 2023.
"I took full advantage of this opportunity," Ramirez-Ramirez said. "I tried many new things and got out of my shell. Studying abroad brought out the best in me and allowed me to learn about myself. If I could, I would definitely, without a doubt, do it all over again."
Whetstone reflected the sentiment.
"Helping DFS students to have similarly life-changing experiences is one of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with," she said.
The DFS program invests in the betterment of students, as they are direct beneficiaries of the community's financial support. Learn how to support the Dean's Future Scholars program and study abroad opportunities.