Leslie Barrera
Principia College
A. Montgomery Ward Foundation Scholarship 

Leslie Barrera wants to open her own business after college. To reach her goal, she is studying business administration at Principia College. Now a junior, Barrera came to Principia from Houston, recruited by a former soccer coach, and is now a goalkeeper for the college’s women’s soccer team. She also plays on the college’s softball team.

Barrera chose Principia to challenge herself and adapt to a different environment. “Principia is a small campus and community, which I really love,” she says. “I grew up in a big community, so I just wanted to try and see more of small community.” Plus, the scenic nature of the Principia College campus was an attraction, with its bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, Barrera says.

Business administration offers many opportunities in the workforce, she says. Her father works in the heating and cooling industry, which interests Barrera. She is also considering possible careers in real estate or sports.

Barrera is the oldest of three children and a first-generation student. The college awarded her an A. Montgomery Ward Found ation Scholarship, available through ACI, to help finance her college education. That has helped her focus more on school. “As a student, I would feel a bit more pressure about working, instead of focusing on my studies. I’m the person that has trouble focusing on studies. I need more time, and so with the scholarship, it gives me the opportunity to focus more on my academics. It also gives me the opportunity to keep playing soccer.” Barrera says.

She is grateful for those whose donations made her scholarship possible. “It takes a big heart to give back,” Barrera says. “Being first generation, having to figure out things on your own, what career path, what scholarships to apply for … It’s a handful for first generation students that I can relate to. It takes some weight off my shoulders, and I’m grateful for what they do.”

One day, Barrera says she hopes to be in a position to help first-generation students. “Not many Hispanic students are able to get help or support to attend college. I have some friends that have struggled through that,” she says. “So going toward the future and thinking about helping others, friends, family attend colleges and pursue what they dream of, is what I strive for as well.”

In addition to playing the two Division 3 sports at Principia College, Barrera participates in the college’s Consulting Club.

Joachim “Gabe” Calalang
Rockford University
The Michele and Peter Willmott Fund for Minority Student Leadership Scholarship

Joachim “Gabe” Calalang lives by a motto tattooed on his arm, “Heart Over Height,” which he says encourages him, especially as a basketball player. Calalang played in high school and has been part of the Rockford University men’s basketball team the past three seasons. “I’m 5-6. I’m a point guard,” he says. “The meaning of Heart Over Height means that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, where you go, or where you’re from. If you have heart, nothing can stop you.” Those same words encourage Calalang in life and in his work to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Rockford University.

Calalang, the oldest of three brothers, is from Sterling, Virginia. He will graduate in May 2023. He chose Rockford because he wanted to continue to play basketball in college. He wanted to go to college out of state, the coaches were interested in him, and Rockford had the nursing major. He liked the school’s small community and close connections with professors.

His interest in nursing was influenced by his parents, who are “great role models,” he says. “They both work in the medical field. I aspire to be just like them. They’ve been great parents to me. They’ve been nice to other people. They’re so positive and outgoing and proactive, and I just want to be just like them.” Calalang’s mother is a charge nurse in a hospital, and his father is a medical supply coordinator.

After college, Calalang says he wants to work in a hospital setting, possibly in the mental health field. Because of his basketball career, he’s also interested in working with athletes. “I like taking care of people, and I like being there for others,” he says. “Whether it’s just talking with them or just helping them with an ankle sprain. Because I’ve been through numerous injuries myself. So, I know how it is. I feel like the experience of doing sports, and being in my third semester of nursing school, I’ve learned a lot, so I really want to be involved with sports as well.”

To help his college experience, Calalang is the recipient of The Michele and Peter Willmott Fund for Minority Student Leadership Scholarship, through ACI. The news was a pleasant surprise. “I woke up one morning and saw that pop up in my email. I was jumping in my bed. I was excited. It just shows that if you don’t give up, you’re going to get something,” he says.

“Receiving a scholarship is like a blessing,” Calalang says. “It means a lot to me because I know financially, some people aren’t blessed as I am to get a scholarship.”

He is especially appreciative of the donors he made his scholarship possible. “Being mentioned as one of the people to receive a scholarship, it means to keep working. To have that never-satisfied mentality, to realize if you keep working hard, you’re going to get somewhere. So, I really thank that person for recognizing what I’ve done for the community and on campus, and I really look forward to influencing other people.”

Because of nursing clinicals this year, Calalang is working this season as a student assistant for the men’s team. He works with a group called Cherry Troop, which organizes charitable events. He is vice president of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, which promotes sports, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is a Regent Experience Guide or “Reggie.” Reggie volunteers provide guidance to first-year students at Rockford.


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