StoriesNatalia Rosa ’16

Defying the Odds

The first Urban Scholar to graduate—magna cum laude—talks about the challenges she faced as a DACA immigrant and later when she started college.

In 2016, Natalia Rosa became the first Urban Scholars Initiative (USI) student to graduate. The milestone is testament to her persistence, work ethic, and the network of support at home and at Lesley.

Natalia came from Brazil to the United States when she was 7 years old. “I had to adapt to a new culture, new environment and learn a whole new language,” she says. In fifth grade, she attended KIPP Academy in Lynn, a charter school. 

“At KIPP, I learned that just because I was growing up in a low-income community did not mean that I wouldn’t go to college,” she says, adding that the school helped her realize that if she worked hard and stayed motivated, she could defy the odds and graduate from college.

Natalia was accepted into Lesley. “The first year and a half of my college career was very tough,” she says. Because of her documentation status as a DACA immigrant (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Natalia was ineligible for federal aid.

Between working to earn money, commuting from her home in Lynn, and maintaining her grades to keep her Dean’s Scholarship, she had little time for anything else.

Then Natalia had the opportunity to join the first group of USI students in 2013. From then on, her whole college experience changed.

A Vision of a Better Life

Urban Scholars like Natalia are recommended by one of Lesley’s nonprofit community partners. If they meet the university’s admissions criteria, they are admitted to Lesley and are provided with a 50 percent tuition scholarship, which follows them for four years as long as they maintain the academic standards set by the program. In this way, the program supports young people with a vision of a better life for themselves and their families.

But USI doesn’t stop at covering half of the tuition. In addition, students receive advising, mentoring, and skills-building workshops. The customized support these students receive boosts their academic and personal confidence, helping Urban Scholars integrate fully into the university community and assume leadership roles.

“What makes USI unique is the fact that it goes beyond the financial support,” Natalia says. “I came to realize that tuition alone isn’t enough to help make a student successful.”

Raising the Bar

USI enabled Natalia to move to campus and transformed her university experience. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English. She also received the Edith Lesley Wolfard Award, presented to a graduating senior who exhibits a commitment to lifelong learning, professional excellence, and the promise of a future best exemplifying Lesley’s ideals.

“Natalia has raised the bar for what it means to be an Urban Scholar,” says USI Director Maritsa Barros. “I could not be prouder to have her represent the program as the first graduate of USI. She is not only an amazing student and community leader; she is an inspiring role model for all future graduates.”

Natalia says that as she continues her journey beyond Lesley, she hopes to educate and inspire others, drawing from her own struggles as a DACA immigrant and as a non-native English speaker.

She is off to a great start. She was accepted into Teach for America as a 2016 Massachusetts corps member, and she teaches English as a second language to students at the KIPP Academy Elementary in Lynn.