When Yehiri Gonzalez was growing up, school didn’t feel like a safe space. As a future teacher, she wants to change that for students. Truman College is helping her get there.

Yehiri grew up the daughter of immigrant parents and the oldest of four siblings in the Hermosa neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. She only spoke Spanish at home and didn’t learn English until she was 10 years old.

The language barrier made school difficult, and it only became more challenging when her parents got divorced and Yehiri went to live with her family in a domestic violence shelter. Since her parents didn’t speak English, she relied on a tutor who came to the shelter to help her with her homework. When the tutor didn’t show up to the shelter, Yehiri would get in trouble with her teacher for not completing her assignments. She remembers vividly how this would make her feel, and she wants to change the narrative surrounding school for other children who may be growing up like she did.

“I want to go back to the neighborhoods where those shelters are and be that trusted adult for those kids,” Yehiri said. “When I was in the shelter and in school, I didn’t feel like I had a trusted adult.”

By the time Yehiri was a senior at Lane Tech High School, she knew that she wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t sure how she’d pay for it. That’s when she learned about the Supporting Emerging Educator Development—or S.E.E.D.—Scholarship for future teachers. Not only would it help her cover tuition and books, but it would also provide her with support and a path to a four-year degree, a teaching license, and a job.

In addition to applying for and receiving the S.E.E.D. Scholarship, Yehiri received the Star Scholarship and the Chicago Latino Caucus Foundation Scholarship. She no longer had to worry about paying for school, which motivated her to reach her goals of being the first high school and college graduate in her family.

“[The scholarships] not only help me pay for school, but they are helping develop me as an urban teacher,” Yehiri said.

As she focused on her grades and her future at Truman, Yehiri met with her advisors often who ensured she was on track to meet her graduation and transfer goals. She was also able to develop strong relationships with her instructors, particularly Professor Maeve Masini.

“I love her,” Yehiri said. “She had so much passion and so much to teach. I really appreciated her.”

Professor Masini also helped to solidify Yehiri’s dream of going to Illinois State University (ISU). When two of Yehiri’s classes wouldn’t transfer to ISU, Professor Masini met with leaders at the school. In the end, Yehiri was able to transfer those credits, which helped all the other students in the program as well.

In preparing to transfer, Yehiri was once again faced with the dilemma of how to pay for school. Due to her hard work, she was awarded the Star Plus Scholarship, and she became a Golden Apple Scholar. The Star Plus Scholarship awards selected Star Scholars a total of $5,000 over two years—$2,500 per year—toward their bachelor’s degree program at a four-year City Colleges of Chicago transfer partner. Yehiri’s Golden Apple award gives her up to $23,000 in assistance, classroom teaching experience, mentoring, and helps with job placement.

Throughout Yehiri’s life, community has been one of the most important things—the community she built with her family, her Hermosa neighborhood, and her Truman College community. She has always tried to give back when she could. She worked as an election judge in Hermosa, she shared scholarship information with other Truman students, and she worked part-time at Lincoln Park Zoo to help deliver tours to visiting students in Spanish. Her commitment to being a bright light in her communities earned her a Luminary Award at City Colleges during the 2021-2022 school year.

Making education accessible to everyone is Yehiri’s goal in life, so she wants to become a bilingual teacher. She never wants a child to feel like school isn’t a safe, welcoming place for them.