Sophia just completed her first year of college at University of New Orleans. She is a Tocqueville Scholar, a fellowship for outstanding undergraduates interested in issues connected to public policy, ethics, and law. The program’s mission is to help students develop the practical and analytical skills they need for fulfilling lives, prosperous careers, and good citizenship. Based in the UNO Urban Entrepreneurship & Policy Institute, students receive scholarships to work closely with faculty on research and community-focused projects.
We spoke with Sophia to learn more about her story, the Tocqueville program, and what she thinks about education.
Sophia: I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana. I come from a single-parent household, and I have four siblings. Neither of my parents graduated college. Both of my parents were addicts growing up. And now my older brother is in a rehab project.
It has always been a big goal of mine to graduate from college, and to go to law school. I also wanted to get out of my hometown. I wouldn’t be able to do that without really generous funding.
I applied to UNO, and my plan was to be an English major. I wanted to get out of undergrad as quickly as possible and immediately go to law school.
J. P. Messina reached out to me about the UNO Tocqueville scholars program. I was at lunch with my family on my high-school graduation day, and he gave me a call. I was drawn to the program’s community, the small class sizes, the one-on-one time with professors. And the scholarship money!
I joined the program, and it has been as advertised. We go on hikes together outside of school. We’ve participated in really cool roundtable discussions. I have relationships with all of my professors outside of school, and I absolutely love that. All of the professors have made it very clear that they are here for us any time we need.
There’s a four-year plan for Tocqueville students; we take the same classes together. We’ve all gotten really close as a result of it. There’s no more than 20 students in the cohort, and I think they want to keep it that way. We have a good group of students who are way smarter than I am. We have each other’s backs.
I’ve learned a lot so far. I used to shy away from anything math related. I don’t now. The other day I was writing a course evaluation for my professor and realized that I appreciated how he used data. Data used to never mean anything to me. Through taking his public-policy course I realized that there are definite ways to use data to solve really big problems. There are models, game theory applications, and more. We can think about these things in a real way without guessing what people want.
My biggest take-away from the Tocqueville program so far is personal. I thought I wanted to complete my undergraduate degree in less than two years. Now, I want to be here as long as possible. I want to get as much out of my undergraduate experience as I can.
I’m a recruitment advisor for the Tocqueville scholars program now. I’m looking for students who can bring something different to the table, someone with really good ideas. I think as young people we often wait for opportunity to find us. We think that we don’t have a lot of control because we’re young.
But you have to chase everything you want. Being in New Orleans on my own has shown me that you can have anything you want in life if you chase it. So I’m looking for people who can think differently.
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