Two 2020 Academy of the Canyons graduates share similar aspirations: to be the first generation in their families to go to college.
Now, Daniel Kim and Katelyn Sulett are about to embark on their journeys at Brown University and California Institute of Technology, respectively.
Both college-bound students have worked hard to get to where they are, hard work that’s shown through in their recent accomplishment in receiving a $10,000 college scholarship as 2020 Milken Scholars program recipients.
Kim and Sulett each have found their passions and are determined to pursue them with the help of the scholarship.
While at AOC, Kim was able to take college-level courses at College of the Canyons, something that he believes helped him to really uncover his interests.
“Because you’re in a college setting, you’re able to connect with professors,” he said, adding that he really connected with his biology teacher Mike Koegle. “When I was trying to discover my path, having that one really great teacher, who was a major guide through high school, really helped. He was one of those teachers that was really able to inspire you.”
With that guidance, Kim said he was able to understand and feel confident in choosing what he’d like to do, discovering his passion for STEM subjects.
It was biodiversity projects that helped Kim to discover what he wanted to do, which was study biology and environmental science to become a doctor or researcher.
“As I spent more time learning about the world we live on, I realized preservation and conservation was something I want to help be a part of,” Kim added.
Kim then founded Project H2O AOC to raise awareness about water conservation in a number of projects around campus, such as creating a water collection bin that collects leftover water from students’ personal drinking bottles for irrigating the campus garden.
Similarly, when Sulett joined the FIRST LEGO League while in 8th grade at La Mesa Junior High, then Project 691 Robotics in high school, it was the STEM and creative, building aspect that first drew her in.
“I’ve always loved tinkering with things, and I’ve always tried to take every opportunity to broaden my horizons,” she said. “And as I went through the program and even as I realized that maybe engineering wasn’t going to be the field that I would specialize in, I wanted to still stay a part and try to impact other kids on the team as I was impacted, which is why I decided to go back and mentor the robotics team.”
In her senior year, she returned to her old team at La Mesa as a mentor, something she hopes to continue as she begins her first year of college while starting online classes from home, pursuing a degree in astrophysics.
“I really feel that creating the next generation of thinkers is absolutely crucial to developing our new society as we go through and see all these changing times,” she added. “I found that education and helping others is really one of my passions and no matter what I am doing in college, whether it’s astrophysics or otherwise, I would like to incorporate teaching and volunteerism into my future career, whether it may be at the college level or beyond.”
As Milken Scholars, Kim and Sulett not only received financial assistance, but also more importantly gained a support system of resources and networks they can tap into through their academic careers.
“The program is really focused on making connections with fellow scholars, who are really accomplished and impressive,” Kim said. “Just having that guidance, being able to connect with them and ask for advice is super important, especially for first-generation college students like me.”
Sulett agreed, adding, “I’ve gotten to know a lot of amazing people, including two students who are both one grade and two grades above me at Caltech and have taken on the positions as peer mentors to help me out in the transition to college while staying at home.”
Many of the mentors Kim has encountered have been first-generation college students themselves, which he said helps, as they know the situation he’s in because they’ve been in it themselves.
“It’s hard to navigate college without a support system,” he added. “I have goals, but I’m not sure how I’m going to get there, so knowing that I can later ask for more help is very reassuring.”