Welcome to Maven in the Making, where we celebrate the young women in our community who are poised to be future leaders.
Aisha Kokan and Esther Gonzalez, both seniors at University High School, are among just 13 students in Marion and Hamilton counties selected this year to receive the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship Program. The scholarship provides full tuition, required fees, and a book stipend for four years of undergraduate study, with the goal of encouraging some of Indiana’s most talented students to attend one of the state’s higher education institutions and, ultimately, pursue careers in Indiana.
Receiving the scholarship is a huge honor for these two young ladies, and they also just so happen to be best friends who have cheered each other on every step of the way in this endeavor. We asked Aisha and Esther how they supported each other during their journey, and what plans they have for the future.
What is your “maven superpower?”
Aisha: Being able to maintain a positive attitude even through challenges by searching for the good in every situation.
Esther: My superpower is taking into account other people’s feelings and making sure I am treating the people around me with respect and love.
How did you feel when you found out that you both had been selected to receive this prestigious scholarship?
Aisha: I felt very thankful! College is expensive, and it’s amazing to know that I have the opportunity to pursue higher education virtually free of cost. It was also fun to find out together. Our college counselor, Maddy, came to us at the end of our math class and told us we were in trouble. At that point, I was just thinking, “What did we do?” Then we saw Janeen Butler from the Lilly Endowment and she told us we were not actually in trouble and that we received the scholarship, so it all worked out.
Esther: It was so crazy to find out that I had been selected to receive this scholarship, but it was even crazier and more memorable to find out that I had received it with my best friend. I feel immensely proud of both of us for receiving this scholarship and am so happy that we were both able to call our family members and tell them the great news together!
Did you bounce ideas off of each other during the application process?
Aisha: During the brainstorming process of the application, we spent some time just discussing our life experiences together. Having these conversations gave us a chance to reflect and identify what aspects of our lives have been pivotal in shaping who we are. This helped when it came time to craft our essays because we already had topics in mind to write about.
Esther: All the time! Every day after school we would go to different coffee shops and libraries and work to complete our applications.
Do you feel that your friendship helped you achieve your academic success? If so, in what way(s)?
Aisha: Both of us prioritize our education and recognize how much of a privilege it is to have one. Having this similar outlook definitely motivates us to continually persevere in our academics.
Esther: Yes, Aisha has always been one of my biggest supporters, she pushes me to be a better student and inspires me to work hard.
What advice would you give other young people who are interested in applying for this scholarship?
Aisha: Have fun! Enjoy the process of telling your story. That’s really what the application is. It’s a collection of writings that can paint a picture of who you are to the Endowment. Something I also learned during the application process is that you do not have to know exactly who you want to be, what you want to do, or where you want to go in the future to apply. You just have to be excited about the future and be willing to challenge yourself.
Esther: Be your authentic self.
What universities are you attending, and why did you decide on them?
Aisha: I currently do not know what university I will be attending, but I am planning on majoring in computer science while on the pre-med track, and possibly pursuing a minor in public policy or public health.
Esther: I am not sure what college I am going to go to. But one of my priorities is to pick a school that can challenge me academically and provides me with a strong community.
What do you plan to do after you graduate?
Aisha: I’m really passionate about expanding access to healthcare to marginalized communities. After I graduate, I hope to pursue this through the context of biological, computational, and legislative methods.
Esther: At the moment, I am unsure of what I am going to major in, which is why in college I hope to explore various career paths and see what I am passionate about. Hopefully, by the time I graduate, I can find a job that I am proud of and that gives back to my community.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Aisha: In 10 years, I see myself continuing to pursue activities that bring me joy and keep me intellectually stimulated. I see myself surrounded by family and friends, and people who continually challenge me to grow. I also see myself being active in spaces that better our communities, whether that’s through civic engagement, computing, or medicine.
Esther: In 10 years, I see myself working in a job that promotes the wellbeing of others. I have always been interested in the ways we can bring people together and would like to continue pursuing this in the future.
Stephanie Groves is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven.
Know a young woman who is a Maven in the Making? Nominate her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.