Maryanuth (Mary) Keang, a senior at South High School, spends hours every week in school clinics across Denver Public Schools. As a youth advisor with Denver Public Health, Mary is helping to launch and evaluate its school-based clinic program, which operates 17 clinics in schools around the district. In her role, she evaluates clinics and advocates for students who use them. She also helps to promote awareness of clinic services among students by creating promotional materials and conducting outreach.
“It is an amazing feeling to advocate for people my age, especially in women’s health issues,” Mary reflects. “I am doing everything I can to help people. My work addresses the issues that no one talks about, and I bring them to light.”
The role has solidified Mary’s dream to become an OB-GYN and eventually operate her own clinics for underserved women. As a first generation college student, Mary draws inspiration from her mother’s experiences in continuing her education.
“I was born and raised in Cambodia, and moved here at age eight, after my mother came to the United States alone,” she says. “The American dream inspired her to come here. Because she never had the chance to complete high school, her biggest goal has always been to get me to college. She has sacrificed so much to give me this opportunity.”
Having arrived in the United States with no English skills, Mary initially struggled through the culture shock and language barrier in elementary and middle school. Transitioning into high school, she began to thrive in the diverse and open community at South. By her senior year, with the encouragement of her mother, Mary knew she wanted to go to college. She began to seek out resources and support to help her get there.
“There are no classes that prepare you for applying to college. That is where the DSF Future Center comes in,” Mary explains.
To get help throughout the process, Mary visits the DSF Future Center at South High School, where her DSF College Advisors, Danté and Salem, provide support every step of the way. Danté and Mary have worked together to complete her Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), fee waivers, college applications, and scholarship applications. Danté and Salem have also connected Mary with scholarship opportunities, some of which entail lengthy essays and interview processes. Along with a handful of other students at South High School, Mary has qualified for a number of competitive scholarships.
Together, Danté and Salem review students’ application essays, provide opportunities for scholarship applicants to participate in mock interviews with community members, and help students run through best and worst case scenarios in order to piece together their financial aid and scholarship packages into comprehensible numbers. The end goal, Danté says, is to help students go into college feeling financially prepared and motivated to achieve success.
“The DSF Future Center at South High School is key to our students having access to college possibilities,” Danté explains. “A great deal of our students are first generation college students and lack the prior knowledge needed to thrive in the college-going process. Having an advisor who provides students with college-going resources within the school eases the stress of not understanding this process.”
Even for students whose parents attended college, the process can be riddled with challenges as colleges and universities continually alter their admissions procedures, federal aid policies evolve and change, and new private scholarship opportunities arise.
“This support is also critical for our students who are not first generation college students,” says Danté. “For many of these students, it has been decades since their parents applied to college, and it proves to be a difficult process for them to navigate as well.”
The supportive environment of the DSF Future Center has allowed Mary to share experiences with other first generation college students while navigating her path to college. Having gone through the scholarship interview and selection process as a Daniels Scholar, Danté uses his firsthand experience to provide an extra layer of reassurance to seniors.
“One day, Danté called all of the students who became finalists for different competitive scholarships in to the Future Center,” Mary recalls. “We talked about the essay questions on our applications, what we are nervous about, what to expect in our interviews. It was such a relief to have these conversations with people going through the same things as me.”
Over the next few weeks, Mary will continue working with Danté and Salem to narrow down her college choice as the acceptance letters and award notifications roll in.
“Mary has been putting in the work needed to be successful since the very beginning of this school year and all of her college acceptances, awards and scholarships illustrate just how hard she has been working,” says Danté.
With many important decisions to make, Mary is eager to take the next step towards her career goal.
“I decided what career I want to pursue, and now I am figuring out how to get there,” Mary says. “Without help from my DSF College Advisors, I am not sure if I would have even known where to start. They turn our dreams into realistic, achievable steps. They think they are just doing their job, but their job means so much to us.”