‘Somewhere I definitely wanted to be’: Local student joins UChicago’s Class of 2027

Celebration welcomes Kyla Jimenez from Belmont Cragin neighborhood in Chicago to University community

When Kyla Jimenez’s older brother Isaaq would travel from their home in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood to the University of Chicago’s campus to participate in the University’s college readiness and access programming, she often tagged along. Kyla would explore campus buildings or do homework in Hyde Park coffee shops with her mom while Isaaq attended classes and events for the Collegiate Scholars Program for Chicago Public School students.

“I just knew that the community and the environment was somewhere I definitely wanted to be for college. It’s just perfect for me,” Kyla Jimenez said. That belief only grew stronger when she joined the Collegiate Scholars Program (CSP) herself a few years later as a sophomore at CPS charter high school Intrinsic Schools ­– Belmont Campus. She even wears her favorite UChicago sweatshirt to school “almost every day,” she said.

That bond came full circle this week when Jimenez—her high school class valedictorian, captain of the varsity volleyball team, vice president of her school’s National Honor Society, and, like her brother, a first-generation college student—learned that she’d been accepted into the Class of 2027 at UChicago, her first-choice university, on a full-tuition scholarship. Jimenez’s family, teachers and representatives from the University Admissions office and CSP were all on hand at Jimenez’s school on the city’s Northwest Side to share the news and congratulate Jimenez. Isaaq even took the day off his own classes at UChicago, where he is now a fourth-year student in the College, to be there to celebrate his sister.

“I couldn’t be more proud because she’s put in so much work. And all that hard work paid off,” Isaaq Khader said. “I was going in alone—we’re both the first in our family to go to college—but CSP made UChicago feel like home and anytime I was on campus I felt relaxed and always had a smile on my face, and it was the same for Kyla. To know that she technically has known UChicago from a younger age than I have, it makes me feel good, and I know she’s going to do great. It’s a difficult school, but it’s challenging in a great way. It challenges you to be your best self.”

The Collegiate Scholars Program, a three-year enrichment program that prepares talented Chicago Public School students from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds for admission and success at highly selective colleges, was established in 2003 after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that highly qualified CPS high school students were underreaching in their college applications. Throughout their three years with CSP, students build confidence by being on UChicago’s campus, taking courses from University faculty, and learning to do research in a variety of disciplines, which helps them understand they can succeed anywhere.

“The University’s college readiness and access programs aim to extend educational opportunity for students who are looking for new challenges and opportunities to grow and succeed,” said Abel Ochoa, executive director of college readiness and access within the University’s Office of Civic Engagement. “Kyla took full advantage of all the opportunities that were presented to her in the Collegiate Scholars Program and demonstrated a high level of dedication towards everything she set out to do. I’m excited to see her continue her academic journey at UChicago and know that she will improve the world and community around her.”

Jimenez has earned straight As in her CSP courses, which have included Molecular Engineering, Introduction to Sociological Thinking, and Computer Science, among others, and served as student speaker for the program’s summer welcome event this year. Her mother, Nancy, has gotten involved with CSP programming over the years as well, taking part in CSP’s regular college readiness events and sharing her experience with other parents as part of the program’s Family Engagement Committee.

“They give these tools to the kids, and not only do they take them out of their comfort zone, but they teach them a sense of independence that we as parents have to learn that it’s going to be okay, that she’s going to be able to maneuver a campus,” Nancy Jimenez said. “The program really gives that kind of exposure and experience to get them ready for what college is going to be like. And for families, there are a lot of resources to help us in understanding a lot of those waters we don’t really always know how to navigate.”

Kyla Jimenez took part in CSP’s annual college tours, visiting several campuses in the Washington, D.C. area this past summer with program staff and fellow scholars. Erin Estrada, director of post-secondary counseling at Intrinsic Belmont, remembers Jimenez coming home and being more convinced than ever that UChicago was the right place for her. She applied under the University’s rolling Early Decision plan in August.

“It was just so affirming for her to know that not only is UChicago a really great school, but it’s also a school where she belongs. So, her decision to apply early decision was obviously the right one, but it’s also just grounded in the amazing community that UChicago’s been able to build for students in CSP, students in Chicago, students in this community. It makes it such a special place, so I’m just thrilled for her,” Estrada said. “She’s been No. 1 in her class since her first semester freshman year. We all knew she was going to go off and do really great things, but for her to have the exact outcome that she was hoping for and to be celebrated like this is just an affirmation of the past four, six, 16 years of her life.”

At UChicago, Jimenez said she plans to study biology on a pre-med track and work toward her dream of being a pediatrician. She’s also planning to grill her older brother on the best spots to study and eat on campus. For now, Jimenez said she’s just feeling grateful for the support of those around her and letting the news of her admission sink in.

“I’m just so happy,” she said. “It feels like a dream.”

—A version of this story was originally published on the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement website.