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Annual Report Academic Year 2018–19

Director’s Message


n the previous annual report, I talked about the power of place and the influence our new central location was having on our students. Today, we stand even more integrated with Willamette University. Partnering with professors for summer camp, turning to the career development office for curriculum support and having Willamette students as Saturday session instructors are just a few new ways this special university community supports us. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done over the last three years and I believe our program now is stronger than ever.

“We believe our influence can be mighty.” —Emilio Solano ’09 Executive Director

At the close of each year, I conduct exit interviews with our graduating students. These seniors consistently tell me they were shy and quiet before Willamette Academy, but that our community of respect allowed their confidence to grow. They are more willing to get out of their comfort zone, advocate for themselves and others, and they say it feels amazing to be friends with students from every high school in the district.

To achieve this vision, we must maintain our strong and inclusive community. It must encourage and empower our students to be who they are, share their identities and family stories, and support their own growth during their time with us. We hope to create a change in students that extends beyond our five-year program. Our graduates have a responsibility to lead, build community and mentor others. They have a responsibility to pay their knowledge and academy experience forward. With your support, our program vision leads to creating authentic leaders that spread the work that we do. Our vision goes where our students go. Since 2017, 43 of our graduates have taken their leadership to Willamette University. And since our first graduating class in 2007, students have taken their academy experiences with them to Harvard, Oregon State, Stanford, Pomona, University of Oregon, American University, Seattle University and many more.

The current strength of our program directly reflects the community support we receive. This strength pushed me to start thinking: what are our next steps and our vision moving forward? Most importantly, what is our vision for our students?

While we recognize our program is small relative to other college access programs, we believe our influence can be mighty. Our mission is realized when our students graduate from college. But our vision takes true form when they spread their leadership and influence within the communities to which they belong.

Simply put, we want our students to be leaders in their school and their community.

Emilio Solano ’09 Executive Director

Above all, people in the program saw Zuñiga’s potential — even when he didn’t immediately see it himself. At the encouragement of William Bragg, the academy’s assistant director at the time, Zuñiga applied for a Gates Foundation scholarship that provided him with significant support toward Willamette University, where he majored in biology and discovered his love for the research lab. Impressed by Jason Duncan, associate professor of Biology, during a class, Zuñiga contacted him and offered help. Duncan immediately gave Zuñiga a project of his own and trained him for 18 months in a one-to-one lab setting, an essentially unheard of experience at larger universities.

Academy leads Alfredo Zuñiga to success in neuroscience

A Top: Zuñiga in 2012 (right) as a Willamette University undergraduate in the biology lab with professor Jason Duncan; Above: Zuñiga today in the lab at Oregon Health and Sciences University

lfredo Zuñiga ’12 will soon defend his PhD thesis in neuroscience at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland — a feat he could not imagine accomplishing without the support of donors and Willamette Academy.

“I knew this college thing existed, but it wasn’t something that my folks and I had even talked about before the academy,” he said. “I don’t think I even understood the different levels of education that existed or were available for someone to obtain.” After he enrolled in 2003, the academy established academic expectations for him early on and provided academic support like advanced math tutoring he couldn’t receive at home. It also demystified financial aid forms, which would be “almost impossible to navigate by myself,” he said.

Zuñiga said he learned many basic and advanced techniques that he routinely uses even today as he studies addiction and the way drugs affect someone’s mood, behavior and memory. What fulfills him most as a researcher is being able to continuously ask questions about the things that interest him, he said. “I’ve always been a curious person, but now I can be curious all of the time,” he said. Zuñiga is currently considering postdoctoral positions at the University of Texas at Austin, University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. The success he’s gained through the academy — as well as that of future generations — is so important to him, he’s been on the academy advisory board for the past two years. Without the academy, he wouldn’t have attended a university like Willamette — he wouldn’t have even tried. “I wouldn’t have been able to afford Willamette without the assistance I received through the academy, and if I hadn’t attended Willamette, I doubt I would have ever gotten into neuroscience,” he said. “This is what the academy does best: it gives graduates the right tools to find the things that interested them and the guidance to get there.”


Salem-Keizer School District students (8-12th grade) currently enrolled at the academy

Approximate annual cost, per student, to conduct academy programming


Number of academy students selected as Ford Scholars by the Ford Family Foundation


100% Academy students of color


Av aca (cumula ac


verage GPA of ademy students ative as of 2018-19 cademic year)

Students observe the behavioral patterns of betta fish during the academy’s eighth and ninth grade summer camp.


Will be first-generation college students

Academy students receiving free or reduced-cost school lunches



Academy students selected as Gates Millennium Scholars

Academy alumni who’ve either graduated from or are currently enrolled at a two- or four-year college


Highlights 2018-19

Ten Saturday sessions engaged students in community-building exercises, goal-setting, college and career exploration, high school and college transition, financial literacy, SAT prep and provides general academic support. All students had the opportunity to visit George Fox University, Portland State University, University of Oregon, Lewis & Clark College and Pacific University in Portland. “College Track” sessions provided academy seniors with workshops on financial aid, college and scholarship applications, matriculation and how to transition into college. Fifty-seven students attended academy-specific info sessions with admission counselors from Pomona College in Claremont, California and Stanford University in Stanford, California. In October, juniors took a college tour trip to Seattle University and the University of Washington.

In January, students designed and implemented an event, “The Silence in our Lives,” for Willamette’s weeklong celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At a February Saturday session, Willamette Law students modeled a classroom environment by teaching case law theories to 11th-graders.

In March, students attended the Dean Santos Diversity Speaker Series featuring Gov. Kate Brown and former Gov. Barbara Roberts, Oregon’s only female governors. In March, 18 students attended a nature walk at Willamette’s 305-acre forest property led by professors Joe Bowersox (environmental science) and David Craig (biology).

In May, the academy celebrated 28 graduates, the largest class in its history and one that eclipsed last year’s record of 27. This fall, a record 16 graduates will attend Willamette University while the rest head to Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Biola University in La Mirada, California, Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, American University in Washington, D.C., and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In June, the academy welcomed 32 rising 8th-graders.

In April, 13 students volunteered their time to work in Garten Services’ Community Garden.

In November, students attended “Blockchain: The Revolution Extends Beyond Cryptocurrency,” an event featuring Willamette alumni Neil Bergquist ’09, MBA’10 and Nathan Love ’05, MBA’06. Students attended screenings and discussions of the documentaries “Dolores” and “Sacred Water: Standing Rock.”

In May, students attended a lecture with Cecilia Muñoz, the former White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council for President Barack Obama’s administration and the highest-ranking Latina at that time. In May, students learned about pre-medical and optometry opportunities at career workshops.

During a 12-day residential summer camp, seniors took a writing course focused on their college and scholarship applications, a history course with Willamette professor Leslie Dunlap (history) and college prep and transition classes run by academy staff — all while leading 8th- and 9th-graders in camp activities.

During a six-day non-residential camp, academy 8th- and 9th-graders took a math class focused on the idea of water rights, a poetry class on student identity and history, and an animal behavior science course during which they analyzed the behavior of betta fish.

During a nine-day residential summer program, 10th- and 11th-graders took core content classes taught by Willamette professors Rosa Leon-Zayas (biology), Josh Laison (mathematics) and Omari Weekes (English). Students also took elective courses, such as one on coding with Rick Watkins (physics.)

“(The Academy) helped me learn things about the college process I never could learn at home.”

Harvard says ‘yes’ to Izzy Perez


n the day Izzy Perez found out he was accepted to Harvard University, he went out of his way to prepare himself for disappointment. In search of comfort in case he had nothing to celebrate, he drove to a Portland ice cream shop with friends. Clutching his cellphone in one hand and a cone in the other, he opened the Ivy League decision email. “I was honestly so shocked I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “It felt as if my heart had stopped for a second and I was on cloud nine.” For any high school student, Harvard is a big deal. But for Perez, it’s the biggest — he’s not only the first in his family to go to college, he’s the first in his family to graduate high school. His parents had never seen a financial aid form. They’d never taken the SAT or applied for scholarships. Perez would have managed this alone had he not attended Willamette Academy, where he learned everything from how to fill out federal loan forms to basics like using The Common Application to apply to several colleges at once. He said, “I am grateful I could be an academy member because it helped me learn things about the college process I never could learn at home.”

Surrounded by a community of students from a background similar to his, Perez not only mastered the college application process but also how to survive and thrive once he arrived. He learned to tackle debates with an open mind, an important skill for when he works with people with differing views or when he has to debate in class, he said. College was no longer a distant unknown in his mind. He’d sat in on lectures with professors, stayed overnight on a residential campus and started thinking about his future. He plans to major in biomedical engineering. He said, “Never in a million years did I think I could get into Harvard, and now I am headed there this fall.”

Izzy Perez enjoying his unique way of preparing for celebration or disappointment.

Willamette Academy Class of 2019


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Profile for Willamette University

Willamette Academy Annual Report - Academic Year 2018-19  

Willamette Academy is a college access program at Willamette University that serves students by providing additional support outside of scho...

Willamette Academy Annual Report - Academic Year 2018-19  

Willamette Academy is a college access program at Willamette University that serves students by providing additional support outside of scho...