Whether it's preparing for a quiz or becoming the first member of her family to graduate from high school, Ajelet Fonseca is accustomed to figuring things out on her own.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants who had a very different educational experience, it's been up to Fonseca to navigate her own path, but the end goal has always been college.
But rather than slowing her down, the barriers she's faced along the way have just served as motivation, which is a big reason why she received the Act Six Scholarship from the Portland Leadership Foundation this spring.
It will allow her to become the first in her family to attend college when she enrolls at George Fox University on a full scholarship this fall, but perhaps more important to the eldest of three siblings is that she won't be the last.
"There has been pressure, but I always overcome that with motivation to become an example for my brothers," Fonseca said. "No one tells me how to do things. I have to figure them out for myself. But I tell my brothers what they need to know and that they can do more than what I've accomplished."
Fonseca graduated from Newberg High School with an honors diploma earlier this month, but her quiet nature and reserved personality made the Act Six application process, which involved three separate interviews, especially challenging.
Similarly, it took a little time for NHS anatomy teacher Hugh Anderson to get to know Fonseca because she was quiet in class and sat in the back, but before long her work made it clear that she was a voracious learner. Anderson gives pop quizzes every week and credited Fonseca with always being prepared.
"She hardly ever asked questions, but in a lot of ways those are the students who understand and think at a little higher level than some other students," Anderson said. "They don't really have to ask or inquire because they seem to grasp everything. It was pretty obvious that's where she was. She works hard and is dedicated like crazy to being successful."
Science has been Fonseca's favorite subject in high school and Anderson's anatomy class helped confirm her desire to become a nurse. After finishing her undergraduate work at George Fox, Fonseca plans to enter a nurse midwife program.
Anderson added that Fonseca is humble to a fault, so much so that she underestimated herself during the course of the scholarship application process.
"She didn't think she had a chance to win," Anderson said. "All of her classmates and friends were telling her she was going to win. Even after she won, I don't think she really believed it, that she deserved it, but she definitely does."
When the Portland Leadership Foundation called to inform her that she had been selected, she was overcome with emotion.
"They told me I got the scholarship and I started crying," Fonseca said. "They said to just keep going because this is a big step and a big opportunity."
Fonseca was one of 17 Portland area students selected for the scholarship and opted to enroll at George Fox over Warner Pacific.
"I feel at home," Fonseca said. "I feel like that's where I belong. It's funny because I live in Newberg, I never went on a college visit to George Fox until I got the scholarship."