Making Ends Meet
for first-generation college students

Making Ends Meet for first-generation college students


At an age when most kids say they want to be a fireman or a movie star when they grow up, Naomie Saintoiry knew precisely what she wanted to be: A doctor.

And she has never wavered.

Because both of her younger siblings were born prematurely, Naomie visited them in the neonatal intensive-care unit of the local hospital. Moved by that experience, she wants to become a neonatal pediatrician.

Ruben Olaverria

Naomie Saintoiry

But the path to medical school isn’t easy—or cheap. The 19-year-old, who lives in Poinciana, started classes at Valencia in the summer.

Originally, Naomie planned to attend the University of Central Florida. However, during high school, as she watched her father work many hours of overtime to save for her college education—she reconsidered. Her older cousins, both Valencia graduates, persuaded Naomie to begin her education at Valencia’s Osceola Campus.

“Tuition was much cheaper here—which is especially important if I go to medical school,” said Naomie, whose parents both work at a local hospital. “And I don’t want to put a lot of financial pressure on my parents. My family has enough strain. My sister is diabetic and her medication is expensive, so I felt I should come here.”

Naomie, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Haiti, won scholarships that covered her tuition. And thanks to a $1,000 Valencia Foundation grant for first-generation college students, she has money to pay for her books for a full year. Now she’s looking forward to continuing her studies for a degree in biomedical science. “Although I initially wanted to go to UCF, I don’t see it as a sacrifice (being at Valencia) because I like it here anyway,” says Naomie. “I like the small class sizes and there are lots of activities to get involved in.”

Just as Naomie used the $1,000 first-generation scholarship to cover the cost of her books, that’s also the plan for another first-generation scholarship recipient, Ruben Olaverria.

Ruben, who’s 19, dreams of earning a degree in criminal justice, becoming a detective and ultimately working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Ruben moved with his mother and three siblings to Florida in 2012 and graduated from high school a year later.


Ruben Olaverria

Ruben Olaverria

The family came to Florida because opportunities for the Olaverria children were slim, as the recession dried up the economy in the Virgin Islands. Here, Ruben says, there are more opportunities.

When Ruben was accepted into Valencia’s Bridges to Success program, his mother, who never got the chance to attend college, was elated. “She was really excited,” recalls Ruben, whose tuition is paid through the Bridges program. “She said, ‘You’re going to college!’”

And now, with the help from the $1,000 first-generation scholarship, Ruben can pay for books for the fall and spring semesters.

“I’m very happy to be at Valencia,” says Ruben, “because the college has given me many opportunities.”