Seven Irving ISD seniors are among the 6,683 scholars nationwide to be selected as QuestBridge National College Match Finalists.
Students who advance will “match” with one of 50 QuestBridge college partners and earn full four-year scholarships valued at more than $200,000. The generous financial aid package covers the full cost of attendance including tuition, room and board, books, supplies and travel expenses.
The scholarship winners will be announced on Friday, December 1.
Read about each of Irving ISD’s QuestBridge Finalists, listed in alphabetical order by last name below. Best of luck, students!
Singley Academy senior, Marie Friend, is very connected to her family and thus would prefer to stay close to home in case of an emergency. Nevertheless, she is open to the possibility of other schools that are further away. Getting into one of the QuestBridge schools she applied to would mean the world to her.
“I am a little anxious to hear back, but at the same time, I am also hopeful,” Friend says. “I feel like I have worked really hard to get to this point, and while this would be a great opportunity for me, I’m just really thankful at the end of the day.”
As a student in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) specialty at Singley, Friend has acquired the skills of an emergency first responder including how to prevent emergencies, respond appropriately during crises in accordance with rules and regulations, and investigate and determine the source of the emergency.
While she hopes to continue her EMT studies in college and become certified, she ultimately plans on majoring in neuroscience and study on the pre-med track to go to medical school and one day become a researcher or clinician working with patients.
“My top choice is Rice University because, out of all the QuestBridge partners, it is the one that is closest to home,” says Friend. “But I have also applied to Vanderbilt University and Duke University because of their research and medical opportunities that would help me in my pursuit of a career in the medical field.”
In addition to volunteering at the Irving Arts Center and commuting to Irving High School for band, Friend is involved in various extracurricular activities at Singley including student council, National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA). Friend credits her mother for being her biggest source of inspiration, and she hopes to make the most of the opportunities she has afforded her.
“I think the youth is our future, and as someone who grew up in a community with limited access to opportunities, I think it’s very important that we focus on educating children from a young age, understand how their minds work and ultimately prepare them for the future so they can reach their full potential.”
Miriam Hernandez’s senior year is already off to a great start. After being accepted into the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute (YLI) last school year, she spent time as a summer scholar at the University Chicago. Most recently on her list of accolades, Hernandez was named a 2023 QuestBridge finalist – an opportunity she says is an honor.
“My older sisters were some of my biggest supporters during this time. They really pushed me to apply because this is such a great opportunity,” says Hernandez. “I’m honored, and I feel very proud of myself.”
Hernandez is a well-rounded scholar at Irving High with a variety of involvements under her belt, including cross country, student council and being the tennis team captain. She was also a member of the band her freshman and sophomore years. While some of her favorite classes are economics and AP statistics, Hernandez has a true passion for graphic design and business. She hopes to pursue a business major in college and freelance graphic design in her spare time.
At the moment, Hernandez is keeping her options open and looks forward to what the future has in store.
Senior Grace Marquez is part of a long legacy of students at MacArthur High School where her grandfather, father and two older sisters also attended. She speaks proudly of her older sister, Serra Marquez, a QuestBridge finalist in 2020 who matched with Notre Dame.
As a freshman, she followed in her sister’s footsteps and became involved in student council, took an interest in engineering and competed on the SkillsUSA team with Serra. Though Grace had big shoes to fill, as a senior she became Student Council President, and now leads her own younger sister, Mary, on the SkillsUSA team.
Ever since she was a child, she’s always known she wanted to become a doctor.
“I was fascinated when I discovered the connection between engineering and the medical field,” says Grace.
This year she attended the summer research program at UT Southwestern, where she says she “really fell in love with what biomedical engineering has to offer.”
After completing her undergraduate degree, she wants to attend medical school, become an OBGYN and continue doing medical research.
Her top schools to match with are Stanford, Duke, MIT and John Hopkins, but she hopes to return to Irving after medical school and serve the Irving community, where her family has deep roots.
“I’m really excited about the whole process because I saw Serra experience everything first,” she states.
She is thankful for her sisters, who have supported her every step of the way, and she shares that the key to her success is, “you have to know what you want and prepare yourself in advance.”
Irving High senior Sebastian Rico says he lives by the motto “Take every chance you can and never have regret,” something his mother instilled in him growing up. When applying for the QuestBridge scholarship, Rico says he was very nervous and doubted whether or not he’d move to the next round. But his mother’s words were constantly on his mind, so he applied for the scholarship, and the waiting began.
“I was at a friend’s house the day we were notified, and I purposely wanted to distract myself that day to take my mind off of it,” he says. “I remember getting an email notification on my phone and when I opened the email, I saw ‘Congratulations’ and confetti on the screen. I was in complete shock. I think I stopped breathing for 15 to 30 seconds. It was real. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a QuestBridge finalist.”
Rico hopes to match with either Yale University or Rice University because both institutions have a smaller student-faculty ratio, which he feels will provide more time to connect with professors and good psychology programs.
“I want to major in psychology and pursue a career as a psychiatrist post-college. Mental health and how to properly manage it is a serious issue we face in America. We could tackle so many other issues if we start there first”, he adds.
In addition to being passionate about mental health, Rico is also a lover of music. He’s currently a section leader in the Irving High band – playing the tuba and sousaphone – and is also a member of the jazz band. Additionally, he’s an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) scholar and a member of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program.
When thinking about the people who have helped him get to this point, Rico says he has so many people to thank.
“Of course my mother is my biggest supporter. She always believed in me and let me know that I can do anything, even if I’m afraid,” he says. “My teacher, Ms. Cheyanne Suffka, is always so encouraging, positive and passionate about learning, which is great to be around. Lastly, my band director, Mr. Scott Anderson, is the one who lit the spark in me to have a passion for music. I was so much more invested in band because of him. Just like those people have inspired and supported me, I hope to be that for my younger siblings. I’m the oldest of four and I strive each day to be the brother they look up to.”
When Valentina Romero enrolled in Irving ISD as a fifth grader at Townley Elementary School seven years ago, she had a very minimal understanding of the English language. Now, the Nimitz High School senior is in the running to be matched with some of the top universities in the country through the QuestBridge program.
“It shows that I worked hard, and I’ve made my mom proud to show that everything she gave up meant something,” says Romero, a native of Honduras. “She is my greatest inspiration. She came from a really small village. She earned her master’s in business and had a successful career but gave up her work, her family, her friends and moved all of her life to the United States to give me a better life.”
Romero has not taken her mother’s sacrifice for granted. She has dedicated herself to her studies, prioritizes giving back to her community through Woodhaven Church and the Marco Polo Foundation, and is involved in school as a member of the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, Technology Student Association (TSA) and Robotics.
She plans to further maximize the opportunity by attending a four-year university to study biochemistry then continue onto medical school with aspirations of becoming a dermatologist.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor, and then I got into skincare, so being a dermatologist looks really fun,” she says. “It would be my way of helping others.”
MacArthur Senior Christian Santana has not missed a day of school in nearly 12 years. His pursuit of becoming a broadcast journalist began when he was interviewed as a young child for the nightly news after an apartment burned down across the street.
“I saw myself in those 15 seconds on the news and remember thinking, ‘I’ve made it,’” he recalls fondly.
Once he entered high school, he was set on continuing to build a solid foundation for his future. He started playing tennis, joined student council, the National Technical Honor Society, National Honor Society, Spanish Club, Destination Imagination and KMAC – MacArthur’s student-run broadcast team. He is the first student in the school’s history to be the producer for both A and B day.
Santana says his parents are his driving force and the reason behind his ambition. They left everything behind in Mexico before he was born to pursue a better life. He says, “My life is a direct reflection of their actions and parenting,” and that at the end of the day, he is “driven to be the best that I can be in all that I do.”
In pursuing college and beyond, he states, “I want to become the new standard for my family,” and set an example for his two younger brothers, a 7th grader at Crockett Middle School and a 4th grader at Johnston Elementary School.
Through QuestBridge, he hopes to match with Northwestern University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California or Columbia University. Ultimately, he says, “I want to become a Spanish-speaking news reporter, so I can give back to my community’.
The feeling of uncertainty that comes with being away from home is not uncommon as students prepare to head off for college. For Singley Academy senior, Janet Zuniga, it is one of the things that she is keeping top of mind as she awaits the results of her QuestBridge application.
“I’m very excited to see if I got into any of the schools I applied to, but I’m also scared about leaving my home for the first time,” Zuniga says.
As far as her top choices are concerned, Zuniga is torn between Duke University and Rice University – both of which offer her a unique experience.
“My top choice is Duke. I really want to go there specifically for the sports. It seems like a really lively environment,” Zuniga says. “I’m also really interested in attending Rice because it is not only closer to home, but they also have amazing opportunities for the major I plan on studying.”
As part of the physical therapy specialty at Singley, Zuniga has had the opportunity to learn how to check someone’s vital signs, treat certain injuries and other aspects of sports rehabilitation. She looks forward to applying what she’s learned and building on it by studying the psychological effects that sports injuries can have on an athlete’s brain.
Zuniga is also a member of Student Council, National Honor Society and helped start the Psychology Club.
“The organizations I am a part of provide a lot of volunteer opportunities and initiatives such as Adopt A Child, which in turn allows me to give back to my community and help those in need, Zuniga says .” “It’s very fulfilling to now be able to help the people I saw struggling when I was younger and unable to help.”