Three APHD Gates Scholars aspire to help others

February 15, 2016

Xavier Brown is a case manager in social work by day, and always dreamed of being a guidance counselor. Samantha Martinez hopes to help victims of abuse. Cherish Williams is studying for her doctorate.

All three came to Penn GSE’s Applied Psychology and Human Development program to care for people and become leaders in education. All three are Gates Millennium Scholars—a highly competitive scholarship that covers unmet financial need for students to attend college and graduate school.

Brown, #12, played basketball for Immaculata University

Xavier Brown is a master’s candidate in the Executive Program in School and Mental Health Counseling (SMHC) program at Penn GSE. SMHC is a two-year, full-time program designed for working professionals. Students meet one weekend per month and one week during each of the two summers. Currently, Brown works full time as a case manager for Turning Points for Children, part time as a Direct Support Leader for Devereux Behavioral Health, and coaches basketball at Paul Robeson High School, his alma mater.

“I am passionate about education and feel as though it is the key to life,” said Brown.

Despite his busy schedule, Brown looks forward to his time at Penn GSE. He credits his professors and cohort for creating a learning environment filled with positive energy and support.

“My classes challenge me to think about topics that are applicable in the capacity of my career goals,” said Brown. “The next step is to obtain my school counseling certification and become a guidance counselor.”

Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Brown was very involved in school and his community—he was a member of the school debate team, played several sports, and regularly volunteered. Brown knew that he needed to focus on his education and hoped to obtain an academic scholarship to attend college, promising his hard-working mother that he would get a degree. During his junior year of high school, Brown’s guidance counselor encouraged him to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which gives low-income, underserved, and first-generation students the opportunity to pursue a postsecondary degree. Scholars are also eligible for graduate school funding in select areas, including education.   

“The scholarship offered me a once-in-a-lifetime experience to attend a university of my choice,” said Brown. “It also provided me with an inspiring mentor and advisor, and access to limitless resources, academic support, working professionals, and a support network.”

Brown attended Immaculata University in suburban Philadelphia. He played guard on the Mighty Macs basketball team, balancing athletics, academics, and a full-time job. After experiencing a career-ending injury his sophomore year, Brown’s passion for helping others increased tremendously. Now, Brown hopes to open a private counseling practice specializing in sports psychology.

“After graduating from Penn GSE, I can help student-athletes stay motivated, manage their time, and deal with grief and loss,” said Brown. “I believe with the appropriate knowledge and understanding of purpose, they will be able to achieve at a much higher level.”

Williams with her mother at graduationCherish Williams graduated from Penn GSE’s School and Mental Health Counseling program in 2014.

“My time at Penn GSE made me a culturally competent scholar,” said Williams. “I had the opportunity to connect with amazing professors, such as Drs. Marsha Richardson, Nicole Warren, and Howard Stevenson, who remain sources of support. 

The APHD program at Penn GSE provides students with a foundation in the core concepts of psychological intervention, including assessment, intervention, learning and development, and field research.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina (UNC)-Chapel Hill, Williams moved to Philadelphia to study at Penn GSE. For the first time, she encountered professors of color, and this experience underscored the important role mentorship plays in educational success. Now, she has returned to UNC-Chapel Hill to pursue a Ph.D. in School Psychology.

“Penn GSE affirmed my life goals and encouraged me to continue my education,” said Williams.

Williams grew up in a small town in North Carolina, where her peers were encouraged to seek employment or learn a trade after high school. Her cousin, however, was a recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship in its inaugural year. As a young child, Williams vowed that she would become a Gates Scholar and earn a college degree as well.

“My parents lost their jobs my senior year of high school,” said Williams. “I knew the scholarship was the key to achieving my dreams. Receiving this prestigious scholarship allowed me to attend an Ivy League institution [Penn GSE], which I never dreamed was possible,” said Williams.

Williams is now inspired to remain in academia. After she graduates from UNC-Chapel Hill, she plans to practice as a licensed psychologist while teaching at the adjunct level.

Samantha Martinez came to Penn GSE knowing she wanted to help people. But her time in the Counseling and Mental Health (CMHS) program broadened her idea of what she wanted to accomplish. 

“I have had the opportunity to learn more about the counseling profession and the clinical merit of things like therapeutic alliance with the client,” said Martinez. “It has opened my eyes to the enormous amount of work that needs to be done in the profession.”

CMHS is a one-year master’s degree that provides students with a gateway to professional training in psychology, mental health counseling, and school counseling. Most graduates go on to enter the Professional Counseling program at Penn GSE or continue on to doctoral programs at other institutions.

After graduating from Penn GSE, Martinez hopes to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology as well as a juris doctor in criminal law. She wants to work with both survivors and perpetrators of abuse.

“I’d like to help underrepresented and minority populations, especially for those who speak English as a second language,” said Martinez.

Born to immigrant parents from Mexico, Samantha Martinez spent most of her childhood in Salem, Oregon. She attended McKay High School, which the state labeled “persistently dangerous” for its number of weapons-related expulsions. For Martinez, going to college was non-negotiable—her parents insisted that she pursue a degree. However, even with a merit-based scholarship, she could only afford a few semesters at the local community college. Martinez decided to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, hoping it would help her attain academic success. 

“When I received the award, my entire family shed tears of happiness,” said Martinez. “This scholarship has given me the opportunity to travel to conferences, access resources I didn’t know I had, and meet people that have made me a better person.”

After a semester at Sweet Briar College, Martinez transferred to Willamette University, graduating with degrees in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies. She will graduate from Penn GSE this year.


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