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Featured Family: OLLU education a blessing to freshman

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The eyes fill with light and wonder. A smile of joyous disbelief spreads across her face. The daughter of non-English-speaking immigrants sits in an office on the edge of campus, sharing the story of her impossible dream.

“My father has a second grade education,” says Karla Cruz, an 18-year-old freshman at Our Lady of the Lake University. “He quit school in Honduras to sell vegetables for my grandfather. My mother has a sixth grade education. She comes from a very poor family in Honduras. I am the first in my family to go to college.”

Karla grew up in Houston, unable to speak English until she started pre-school. Her father owns a lawn business; her mother cleans houses. Through one of her father’s customers, Karla enrolled at KIPP Houston High School, a college-preparatory school that serves mostly low-income families. “Just finishing middle school was an accomplishment,” she says.

Karla pressed on and met an OLLU recruiter while visiting a college fair at KIPP. The recruiter, OLLU undergraduate admissions counselor Shannon Tijerina, remembers the meeting vividly. “I gave a presentation about OLLU to interested senior students,” Shannon says, “and there was just something about Karla that made her stand out.

“Karla showed a great interest in OLLU and asked many questions through the presentation and afterwards as well. I could tell she was academically motivated about college and finding the right fit. She even went the extra mile and completed her application during the presentation and turned it in after my visit with the group.”

The small, intimate setting of OLLU -- where the student to faculty ratio is 15:1 -- appealed to Karla. But the big city feel of San Antonio appealed to her as well. “I also wanted to be close to home,” she says.

Another factor led her to apply. Most students at OLLU are the first in their families to attend college. Karla would have lots of company.

Shannon made a second visit to KIPP in the Fall of 2010. She met individually with students who brought their applications and documents and offered a decision on the spot. After reviewing Karla’s paperwork, Shannon said, “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted!”

Karla’s eyes grew wide and watery. “It was just unbelievable,” she says. “I had to call my mom and dad. People were crying on the phone. It was just very emotional.”

She is majoring in biology, making new friends and enjoying a financial aid package that covers most of her tuition and fees. “I love it here,” she says. “I am so glad I came. Now I want to continue and go to graduate school. I wouldn’t say it’s a miracle. But it’s a blessing.”