Danielle Brantley
Saint Xavier University
ACI General Scholarship

Danielle Brantley returned to Chicago’s Saint Xavier University this year for graduate school, studying to be a learning behavior specialist in special education. From Chicago’s south side, Brantley says what first drew her to study English as an undergraduate at Saint Xavier was that the school welcomed students from all backgrounds. “They offered encouragement of being yourself, ” she says. “And, be proud of being yourself. That’s the thing that brought me here when I was an undergrad.”

“I believe that literacy is very important,” she says. Brantley says people who can read and write well can become poets, short-story writers, journalists, critics, teach the classics or formulate legal arguments, regardless of the language. She’s also an avid reader. “There’s a running joke in my family: ‘Books are her favorite indulgence, they say.’ That, and Oreos,” she says.

Brantley returned to Saint Xavier for graduate school for the same reasons she attended as an undergraduate, and encourages family members to consider Saint Xavier, too. Literacy led to her interest in special education, so that everyone can participate and learn. Brantley hopes to work as a special educator in the Chicago public school system, where she can mentor students who may not have access to sufficient resources.

An ACI General Scholarship recipient, Brantley explained she had an outstanding balance on her undergraduate bill as she grew closer to graduation. Her mother was seriously ill and had been hospitalized. She recovered, but the situation took a financial toll on the family. Without the ACI funds, Brantley would not have been able to graduate in the spring. “Receiving that scholarship – it was divine intervention because I was very unsure of how I would have paid that outstanding balance,” Brantley says. She also had enough left to help her brother buy textbooks to he could attend summer school at a community college. Brantley says she is grateful for donors who donate their time and money to make scholarships possible.

Outside the classroom, Brantley is a writing consultant, assisting students in the university’s Learning Center/Writing Studio. She’s also a teaching assistant on campus and takes notes to help accommodate students with who may not be able to take notes for themselves. “I advocate for people who may have disabilities or require some sort of accommodation to seek out help, whether it be on campus or off campus,” she adds.

Darcy Graham
Concordia University Chicago
ACI Peer Mentoring Program

Darcy Graham, from Gross Pointe Woods, Michigan, thought she was going to attend a college near her home in Michigan. But while on a spring-break trip to Chicago, she decided to visit Concordia University Chicago in River Forest. Graham liked what she saw and was able to connect with the cross-country coach so she could continue her running career. Graham is interested in a career as a professional social worker in areas to address child abuse, or working with child protective services or with women and children who have suffered abuse.

A first-generation student, Graham met Blanca Gutierrez, who taught a freshman class to new students. Gutierrez is director of the university’s Office of Multicultural & First-Generation Student Engagement. Graham said she needed help with tuition payments, and Gutierrez suggested she join the Peer Mentoring Program. Among other things, she got help completing the challenging FAFSA, a standard application for all students seeking federal financial aid.

Graham says funding provided through the Peer Mentoring Program helped her purchase books. “I wouldn’t have had enough this semester to get them had it not been for this program,” she says.

Graham says her peer mentor, Jorge Palacios, has been helpful since the beginning of her freshman year, offering support and encouragement. “One of the things he did that was really cool is at the beginning of this year is he gave us all goals. And, he always talks about the importance of internships and jobs,” Graham says. Another benefit of peer mentoring, says Graham, is that she has friends who can offer advice and suggestions about navigating college life. “I can go to Blanca or Jorge because they’ve been through it,” she says.


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