KOKOMO, Ind. — Anahi Santos knows the struggles facing first-generation college students, especially those from Hispanic families.
As a Padre Estrella with the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), the Indiana University Kokomo senior set an example with her perseverance, and showed it’s possible to overcome obstacles and earn a degree.
“I was viewed as a ‘spotlight’ among the Padres Estrellas because I’m close to their age,” she said. “As high school students, we may not always know what we want in the future, and I introduced them to programs that could help them succeed.”
Santos, who graduates with degrees in criminal justice and psychology in May, was appointed as a Padre Estrella – or Star Parent – in December 2021, and completed her term in January 2023. The goal is to encourage higher education for Hispanic and Latino students, specifically introducing them to the 21st Century Scholars program, which provides tuition to an eligible Indiana college or university, and Indiana Next Level Jobs, which locates resources to find a job, explore new careers, or get career advice.
José Medina, director of business and community engagement for ICHE, said Santos partnered with Juntos 4-H in Clinton County to increase the number of Latinx students enrolled in the 21st Century Scholars program, educate them about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and the Workforce Ready Grant.
“Anahi collaborated with valuable community partners in and around Clinton County, such as schools, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders, to specifically engage with and help drive interest and enrollment in postsecondary institutions among Latinx families,” he said.
Santos, who is a 21st Century Scholar, assisted parents as they applied for the program, and helped enrolled students complete the activities required of them from middle school through high school to receive the scholarship.
She also serves as role model by sharing her own story — which includes leadership in student government and serving as a cadet for the IU Police Department at Kokomo. But she can also share how she overcame challenges that nearly derailed her plans.
As a freshman during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she doubted she would graduate. She struggled with online classes and was devastated when travel restrictions prevented her from attending her grandmother’s funeral in Mexico.
A letter warning her she’d been placed on academic probation was the wake-up call she needed, motivating her to focus and to ask for help. Relationships with faculty members in both of her degree programs and in her Spanish minor, and with colleagues in the campus police department and staff made a difference.
“My professors didn’t hold my hand, but they were there beside me every step of the way,” she said. “The police department became a family and is very supportive and motivating. The ladies at the Welcome Center are so cheerful, they brighten my day every time I see them. It’s those relationships that help.”
As Santos prepares for graduation, she looks forward to the next step toward her goal of becoming a police officer: attending the Indiana Police Academy at IU Bloomington, which is one of the benefits of being a cadet on campus.
She’s set herself up for success in that program with regular workouts, and her cadet work, which teaches her the basics of police work, and gives her on-the-job mentoring.
Santos looks forward to Commencement in May, when the sacrifices her parents have made on her behalf pay off.
“I thank them every day for what they’ve done to provide a better future not just for me, but for my brother and sister,” she said. “I’m glad the finish line is just around the corner. I feel like it’s another goal achieved, and something I can feel proud of. It gives me motivation to set new goals to reach.”