Since 2010, Faces of America has been AFS-USA’s premier diversity scholarship program, empowering high school students with essential global skills and a passion for making a difference.
Faces of America embraces the ideals of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility by partnering with Community based Organizations (CBOs), family foundations, individual donors, AFS-USA alums, and others.
This episode includes interviews with volunteers and staff who work with two CBOs: The Dean’s Future Scholars Program in Reno, Nevada and the QUEST Scholarship Fund in St. Louis, Missouri. We will learn how the opportunity to study abroad has impacted the lives of students in their communities, and why it is so important to support these programs.
Learn more about Faces of America at www.afsusa.org/faces-of-america
Study Abroad with AFS-USA: www.afsusa.org/study-abroad
Volunteer with AFS-USA: www.afsusa.org/volunteer
Host with AFS-USA: www.afsusa.org/host
Educator Resources: www.afsusa.org/educators
Contact us: email@example.com
Hello and welcome to the first episode of Season 3 of The AFS Exchange. I’m Kate Mulvihill. The AFS Exchange is a podcast by AFS-USA where we open the door to hear from members of our AFS family. This is a place to have conversations, or exchanges, with AFS host families, students, volunteers, and educators.
In this episode, we’re going to hear about AFS-USA’s Faces of America Scholarship Program. The goal of this program? To ensure equal access for all students to have a global education through exchange.
AFS-USA is only able to offer these scholarships with the partnerships of Community based Organizations, family foundations, individual donors, AFS-USA alums, and others around the country who provide funding and support for these students.
To explain a bit more about Faces of America and why it’s so important to AFS-USA, I’ll give the mic to Tara.
Hello, I'm Tara Hofmann and I'm the President and CEO of AFS USA.
I'm so pleased to have this opportunity to talk about Faces of America, t he program that is very near and dear to the hearts of AFS USA’s leadership. For over 20 years, the Faces of America program has enabled high school students from very diverse backgrounds, whether that be socio-economic, geographic, different cultural groups and communities within the United States, to provide them with access to the opportunity to study abroad on an AFS exchange program.
And as with all of our programs, a key goal is to equip young people with what are considered the essential goals for global competency in education. And we do find that so many of these students when they return, they come back with a passion for making a difference in the world, which is what AFS is all about.
So the Faces of America program really embraces the ideals of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and AFS-USA is able to deliver this program only because of the partnerships that we have with community based organizations across the country. These community based organizations, known as CBOs, operate often in underrepresented communities across the country. They're dedicated to helping to promote access to intercultural exchange programs and promoting education in general.
The objective is to keep students from underserved communities in school and to help give them a path for their future and their academic goals. So through the CBOs they recruit students, and together with AFS representatives, we work tremendously hard and very intentionally to prepare the students for this kind of unique intercultural experience. Many of them have never gone abroad, many of them never had a passport before, many of them have never left their communities.
So preparation and orientation is critical for all students going on AFS, but with our Faces of America students, we provide additional orientation and preparation. And the CBOs also play a key part in this program.
We want to reach more students in more underserved communities across the country. And in order for us to do that, we need both more community based organizations to establish partnerships with AFS-USA, and we do need to raise more funds to be able to sponsor the students to go on program.
For some more information about Faces of America- Since 2010, they have awarded scholarships to over 1,200 motivated, high-performing teenagers across the country. 43% of Faces of America scholars identify as Latina or Latino, 42% as Black, and 10% as Asian or Pacific Islander. 93% of them would be first-generation college students.
And 100% of the Faces of America students who have participated so far have graduated from high school, 95% went on to post-secondary education, including 92% going to college. So really, this is a great testament to the success rate and the investment in their education through providing them with an intercultural learning opportunity.
This episode will include interviews with three people affiliated with two of the CBOs that work with Faces of America. The Dean’s Future Scholars Program in Reno, Nevada. And, the QUEST Scholarship Fund in St. Louis, Missouri.
We will start with the Dean’s Future Scholars Program. It is an academic outreach program with the goal of increasing the number of low-income, first-generation students graduating from high school. They work with high schools throughout Washoe County, in northwest Nevada.
You will hear from Lynn Whetstone, AFS volunteer who helped make the connection between Dean’s Future Scholars and AFS-USA.
You will also hear from Victor Garcia, a Program Coordinator with Dean’s Future Scholars who worked closely with the 2022 cohort of students who went abroad with Faces of America.
Okay, I'm Lynn Whetstone. I'm currently located in Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, Nevada. When I was in high school, I was both in the AFS club and I was the second AFS student to go from our high school. I went to Turkey for a summer. While I was working I didn't volunteer, but after I retired, I decided a way to give back would be to volunteer for AFS.
So my name is Victor Garcia. I was born here, right here in Reno, Nevada. But my parents actually originally are from Guatemala. I'm actually a Graduate Assistant with the Dean’s Future Scholars Program. My second year as a Graduate Assistant, but I've been working for the program now for three years.
I'm currently studying my Masters in Business Administration. I just graduated three years ago in 2019 with my degree in Mechanical Engineering.
So, what is the Dean’s Future Scholars Program?
So to start, Dean’s Future Scholars, which has been around for 22 years, is usually commonly referred to now just as DFS. That's how most of our families, friends, just commonly refer to us nowadays. We've been around for a pretty long time. We started really like a small little closet, back in the day and now we've grown and expanded.
We're an academic outreach program that works with first-generation and low-income students. We are really unique because we start working with students in the sixth grade, and we stay with them until about college completion. The ultimate goal is really to have students graduate from high school. And then they can choose a variety of paths afterwards. So some go to two-year, some go to four-year, some go to trade school, military school, and some go directly into the workforce. Basically, we provide mentoring during the academic school year, and we also provide programming opportunities during the summer on campus.
One of the two big state universities in Nevada is in Reno. They have, of course, a very large college of education.
And the original goal was to reach out to low-income students and hopefully get them to become teachers so they go back and become role models in their communities, which is why it's housed at the College of Education.
They provide summer programs and mentoring all the way through high school. The mentors at this point are basically almost peer mentors, which are graduates of the program who are at the University of Nevada at Reno.
Unlike other college access programs, DFS students do not apply to be in the program. During their sixth grade year, they are essentially tapped on shoulder by their teacher, counselor, or principal. Students are recommended because they are low-income and are first-generation college students, they show a lot of potential, but they usually need some support along the way.
The story of AFS and DFS started in January 2020, with Lynn and fellow AFS volunteer Dr. Rita Laden.
Right before COVID, we were introduced to an amazing community member named Lynn Whetstone. She's been involved with AFS for many years now. So she's really passionate about helping underserved students access educational opportunities.
I contacted AFS and said, “Gee, could this fit in Faces of America?” And they said, “Sure, and we happen to have a grant so if you can identify students within two months, then you can get into this year's program.” So I called Rita and said, “Okay, so do you think we can do this in two months?” And she said, “Yes.” And the program director has been very supportive from the beginning. I mean, she sees this as something that the students have not had any access to, or awareness of.
So she reached out to us and that was kind of an incredible move, because we had been dreaming about this kind of opportunity for a long time, especially our Executive Director, Mariluz Garcia. This is an opportunity we didn't know would happen. But things were moving around, moving along really nicely. But then the global pandemic hit.
And so the students we had selected to go for summer, it didn't happen. But we didn't lose hope. We were nervous, but no hope was lost. And so things actually, luckily, kept ramping up at the end of 2021. And we were able to send students this past summer to Spain, which was amazing, like we couldn't have dreamed of a better outcome.
In 2022, 3 students from DFS were awarded the FOA Scholarship.
So the beauty of DFS is that we're really like family, and so we want everyone to go. But that's not possible. And so we have about 400 students, and so we have to make some tough choices. They obviously have to fall under AFS eligibility. So we were able to kind of go from there. What we wanted to do was avoid bias. And so Lynn Whetstone and another committee member, Dr. Rita Laden, come and volunteer for us and help with the process. So how they did it is that they would review the students' applications on our side, interview them, and then nominate who they believe would be the most qualified. Then those nominated students would proceed through the AFS application and go from there.
Students and their families receive support from Dean's Future Scholars as well as AFS volunteers and staff in preparation for their program.
So what we did is, both for students and parents, we had informational sessions here on the DFS here in the DFS lounge. And it's a space that they're incredibly familiar with. So that hopefully removes some of the intimidation that they were feeling. But we also give them the opportunity and resources to talk to people like myself. Also another Graduate Assistant who was involved with this, Alberto Garcia, and then Lynn Whetstone and Rita. And then actually, a big person who has been a big help for us has always been, Adriana, we've had a great partnership with her. When we were unfamiliar with certain situations, she's always been able to help us. So that was one thing that was really nice.
But the beauty of all of it was that we had families pile up on couches, and so like, and then it turned more into discussion rather than us presenting to them and showing them “Hey, like, here's why it's safe. This is a great opportunity. This is why you should do these things.” And instead, it was more of a conversation. We talked to them. We understood some of their concerns, and we were able to go from there.
AFS offers a couple of programs in Spain. The program that these three students went on was a four-week Spanish language program in the city of Málaga, in the south of Spain. Participants on this program live with students from around the world, providing an additional opportunity for intercultural exchange. They also have about 20 hours a week of Spanish classes, and they go on group excursions to other parts of southern Spain, learning about the country’s history and practicing their language skills.
These three women all went on the Spanish summer language program to Spain. And I have to admit, I had a few doubts at first just how much they would gain from the experience. But I did know from researching that it was an international program.
And so it turned out there were 50 students in the program. The largest group were Italians, about 20 Italians, 14 Americans 10, or 12, in Indian, and then a smattering from other countries. And they were all given a roommate from another country.
And one of the interesting things to me was even when I did the orientation talking about intercultural differences, and the cultural iceberg, etc. And one of the students said, “You know, we have lots of kids at our school from different countries.” So it was kind of like, “We don't need to know about this.” Then they came back really excited about the fact that they now have friends in India, and Italy, who they can communicate with.
So the first thing I had them do as soon as they got back, well, as soon as they were able, because they came back on during the nighttime here. But I had them schedule with me to come in as soon as possible. Then we were here for hours talking. So yeah, it was incredible.
So these girls, how they came back versus how they were, how they came back it was insane. Their presence, there was a different energy when they came back. Then actually hearing them get to talk about their experiences was incredible.
Victor shared with me how these students changed post-program. He said that he saw explosions in confidence from these three. What changed? Well some examples that he shared… they realized that they were independent enough to live away from their families and community- in a different country, no less- for a month. Something that could have seemed emotionally impossible a year prior, became a reality.
Also? Confidence in one’s own skin. Seeing a range of ways to express gender, a variety of body sizes and skin colors….it can help bring into perspective the messages we take in here in the US about what an “ideal” body looks like.
We made sure that they all set goals, and actually that their parents set goals for them. And we talked about it both in the interviews, but also in the orientation. So everybody knew what everybody else's goal was. And they really did push each other. One of them was incredibly shy before she went. And she came back totally changed, but she was being pushed by the others, to interact with other people. So she learned this skill that she would never have learned staying at home. So that was kind of an added benefit.
I asked Victor about the future of the partnership between Dean’s Future Scholars and AFS.
Honestly we are going to do everything we can to sustain the program and keep it going. Studying abroad is such an incredible opportunity. And we want to keep opening doors for students to go see the world. We're incredibly thankful to our partnership with Faces of America and community members who stepped up and to help make this dream a reality.
For 2023, Dean’s Future Scholars received funding from the Hixson Foundation to offer these scholarships. What’s next for DFS and AFS?
We'd like to grow it, because if you think about it, each cohort of the program is 60 to 70 kids. So even if a 10th of those were able to go each year on a program, that would still be six or seven. And we're not quite there yet.
The Program Director is very, very positive about this program. And I will tell you that her program Dean’s Future Scholars was recognized by our US Senator who helps earmark money from some of the COVID relief to look at expanding the model statewide. It is so impressive.
As we’ve heard, Dean’s Future Scholars is a mentor-based, college-access program that works with students from 6th-12th grades. Many of the DFS participants will be the first in their family to graduate high school. The Faces of America scholarship with AFS provides students with opportunities-\ that they would not likely have otherwise. These opportunities open doors and can seriously impact a student’s life path. The goal is to continue offering scholarships in collaboration with DFS, and hopefully having an even greater impact on more students in the future.
There's kind of a growing need, partly because traditionally AFS, certainly when I went years ago, there were some scholarships, but there was a whole group of students we weren't reaching. And because we have such a multicultural society these days, and the schools don't tend to focus on learning about different cultures and how you interact with different cultures, which is going to be important in the lives of all of our students.
The reason this is important is because to get these kinds of opportunities, getting a passport is expensive, domestic flights are expensive. Now tack on the cost of tuition just to attend these kinds of programs. I know for a fact that if the students didn't have the scholarship, they wouldn't have been able to access this kind of incredible experience.
That was Lynn Whetstone, AFS Volunteer, and Victor Garcia, Program Coordinator with the Dean’s Future Scholars Program. You can learn more about the program by heading to the University of Nevada- Reno’s webpage at unr.edu, and searching for Dean’s Future Scholars.
The second Community Based Organization we’ll hear about is the QUEST Scholarship Fund in St. Louis, Missouri. QUEST Scholarships offer high-achieving students from underserved high schools in the St. Louis area the opportunity to leave their local community and develop a global vision by studying abroad.
Suzanne Sebert is an AFS volunteer in St. Louis who co-founded the QUEST Scholarship Fund with fellow volunteer, Debbie Veatch.
I'm Suzanne Sebert, and I'm in St. Louis, Missouri.
My own association with AFS began when I was a student in Germany. I later became a host mom and a sending mom. And I volunteered in several states where I've lived around the country. I've also been a national and international board member.
My partner in this project from the beginning has been Debbie Veatch, another longtime AFS volunteer. Debbie and I were both AFS students from small Midwestern cities when we were teenagers. We were the first people in our families to travel abroad. And we recognize that AFS changed the trajectory of our lives. So when Debbie and I were talking, we shared a regret that students from low-income schools and neighborhoods in St. Louis never had an opportunity to do what we did. Most of them didn't even know that study abroad was possible, because their schools weren't part of AFS.
So in 2017, Debbie and I had both retired and we decided to see what we could do about it. And that's what we learned about Faces of America. The project hadn't come to St. Louis, because there were no community based organizations here of the type that mentor students and provide matching funds for Faces of America scholarships. So, with the help of the St. Louis Community Foundation, we started our own organization, and called it the QUEST Scholarship Fund.
Since 2017, QUEST has sent 34 students abroad, and they have 18 getting ready to go for Summer 2023.
We've worked with more than 25 high schools in the region, and most of them have never had a relationship with AFS. So we focus on schools and neighborhoods in which at least 75% of the students are eligible for the federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. We try to send students between their junior and senior years of high school, so they return to enrich their schools and peer groups. Each fall we contact school counselors in our target neighborhoods, and we invite each school to nominate just one candidate from a low income family and an underrepresented group.
Our students are primarily Black and Hispanic. Some are immigrants. Some have recently become new American families with parents who are born in Haiti and Ghana and the Philippines, Vietnam, Mexico. They're high-achieving teens, sometimes even first in their class. But teens whose opportunities have been really limited.
St. Louis is a place with significant social challenges. Some of our students live in families that have lost members to the violence in their neighborhoods. One of this year's QUEST candidates attends a school that had a shooting last month in which a student and teacher were killed. Debbie and I thought we understood our community. But we had no idea what teen life was like in St. Louis until we started working with this program.
The value of a study abroad program for these teenagers… it’s not just felt by the students and their families. The schools see the impact that an intercultural experience can have on a student.
Let me read a message that Debbie and I got this fall from one of the school counselors. And she said,
“The young people I sent off, they are not the same as the young women who were returned to me. They've grown in confidence, understanding of their own identities and knowledge. Thanks to the study abroad experience, the colleges they've looked at and the confidence they've had in selecting schools of high caliber, much different than the conversations we were having a year ago. I will be forever grateful for the partnership our school has had with QUEST in the care they've shown to our students.”
Those are the moments that keep you going. But some of our schools have even become AFS hosting schools. As you approach a school with a full scholarship, you suddenly open a relationship, a very friendly relationship.
Our students are just into college now. But when we interviewed our first student, who was a junior in high school in 2017, Cheyenne told us that she wanted to be a chemical engineer. Big goal. This May she will graduate from North Carolina A&T With a degree in Chemical Engineering, a bilingual Chemical Engineer because she spent a summer in Paraguay with the AFS language program. So she has a magnificent future ahead of her.
So, why is QUEST such an important program?
It's so important both for the value that it gives to individual students. But it's also important because of the value that it gives to communities. It allows us to show countries abroad, the beautiful mosaic that is the youth of the United States.
And it allows students who participate in AFS programs to share their experience with others from other parts of the United States and other socio-economic groups. It's also extremely important for the long term health of communities that we build leadership across the board in our societies. If AFS is to value diversity and equity, as we say are our values, then it's important that we all participate in that.
Well, let me say that we worked really hard in St. Louis, to raise money to match the Faces of America scholarships. But without both local and national donors, none of this would happen.
I asked Suzanne why folks should donate to Faces of America.
Because they believe in youth. And they believe as one of our sponsors said, that “talent has no zip code” And that if they met some of the amazing students who have come out of our urban neighborhoods, they would be truly convinced. And to see what kind of scholarships the kids are getting to go to college is really amazing. We have a student on a full ride scholarship at Dartmouth right now, we have students who are across the state and across the country on scholarships, that's lovely to see.
But importantly, the students go to college, closer to the experience level of their peer groups. And that makes a huge difference. It's not just money to go to college. But now the students have traveled on airplanes, they have debit cards, they have passports, they've been to other countries. They have an experience base that's far more like the other students that they’ll be with in college.
That was Suzanne Sebert, AFS Volunteer and co-founder of the QUEST Scholarship Fund in St. Louis, Missouri. You can learn more about QUEST at qsfstl.org.
A thank you to our guests Victor Garcia, Lynn Whetstone, and Suzanne Sebert.
Through Faces of America, AFS-USA aims to ensure that global education and study abroad opportunities are made available to all communities and are reflective of the diversity of our country.
If you are interested in learning more about Faces of America or donating to this scholarship, head to afsusa.org/donate. Your gift will provide scholarship support for vulnerable and marginalized young people – including youth of color, LGBTQ youth, and those from low-income backgrounds – to experience the transformational power of intercultural educational exchange. These journeys of discovery expand horizons, build self-confidence, and nurture the capacity for lifelong-learning and leadership.
Faces of America has partnered with over 50 community based organizations since 2010. Right now, there are partnerships across 14 states, from Massachusetts to Oregon, Minnesota to Texas. Do you know of a CBO that might be a good partner for Faces of America? Contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, thank you for listening to The AFS Exchange! I’m Kate Mulvihill. Let us know what you thought of this episode by sending a message to email@example.com. You can also rate and review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can also subscribe there as well so you don’t miss any episodes in this 3rd season.
Also, remember we have 16 episodes already out from Seasons 1 and 2. I personally would recommend checking out “Life as an Exchange Student in the US” and “What is an AFS Host Parent?” Both from last season. Also, “26.2 Miles to France” and “A Lifelong AFSer” from Season 1.
This podcast was created by Kate Mulvihill. Social media by Julie Ball. Editing support by Nina Gaulin. Also a thank you to Tara Hofmann, Mariluz Garcia, Jonathan Gross, Marlene Baker, and Adriana Miladinovic.