Kerry Wood scholarship winner a role model

Gabriella Santoyo

“To be the first one to attend college in my family is quite a privilege,” Gabriella Santoyo says. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger file size)

“Is this really happening?”

“This is the best day ever.”

Those were Gabriella Santoyo’s thoughts when she learned she is the first recipient of a UIC Honors College scholarship established by former Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.

When she enters UIC as a freshman this fall, Santoyo will have some peace of mind, moneywise — all tuition, fees, assessments, books and housing costs are covered for four years by the Kerry and Sarah Wood Family Foundation Scholarship. She’ll also start school with a new laptop computer.

“To be the first one to attend college in my family is quite a privilege because I know I will be the role model for my younger siblings about what it takes to get to college,” she says.

Santoyo is a graduate of Chicago Bulls College Preparatory Charter School, where she was student government president and a varsity three-sport athlete.

She lives in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood with her mother, Livier Paleyo, a member services representative at a Chicago staffing agency, sister Sylvia, 16, a junior at Chicago Bulls Prep, and brother Michael, 2.

In recommendation letters from faculty and staff at her high school, Santoyo’s maturity, thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and ability to motivate others were mentioned frequently.

Tyson Kane, principal of Chicago Bulls College Prep, calls Santoyo “smart” and an “unbelievably hard worker.”

“She has a really strong foundation of character and integrity. She has a maturity beyond her years,” he says. “She is an extremely trustworthy kid.”

Santoyo was selected from a group of graduating high school seniors who have been accepted to UIC’s Honors College and live in the Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park or Lawndale neighborhoods of Chicago.

She has been recognized for academic achievement with membership in the National Honor Society and University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars program. She participated in the Right Angle summer college enrichment program and an out-of-state leadership conference.

“The many organizations and activities in high school prepared me to practice communication and interaction with others, the skills it takes to be a leader, and achieving goals with groups of people,” Santoyo says.

“I hope to bring a different perspective and an outspoken voice to the Honors College and the UIC community.”

Wood Family Foundation scholars must meet Honors College requirements, which include a minimum 3.4 cumulative grade point average for all UIC courses; an Honors Activity every fall and spring semester such as honors coursework, research, tutoring or volunteer service; and an independent capstone research project before graduation.

Santoyo expressed her excitement for the responsibility and challenge that accompany being an Honors College student.

“I have many resources, from academic groups to professionals, to assist me,” she explains.

“This is a challenge I know I’m prepared for. My hard work ethic and motivation are what will drive my progress.”

Her academic interests include business, psychology and communication. She is enrolled in the College of Business Administration, but hasn’t committed to a specific area of study.

Santoyo says UIC’s academic support programs were among the key factors that attracted her.

“The diversity of the student body and the city lifestyle around the campus had a strong appeal,” she adds.

Kane believes Santoyo’s high school success will continue at UIC for many reasons, including her ability to deal with adversity and her unassuming leadership style.

“She has that thing that is really hard to teach, and that is grit,” he says.

“She is very comfortable with herself and accepting of other people. She is really interested in doing the right thing.”

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