NECC Grad Continues His Education with a Little Help from Oprah
Santiago, a 2017 Lawrence High School graduate, was awarded the Oprah Winfrey Scholarship, which will provide him with $5,000 a year while he attends UMass Lowell, working on his bachelor’s in business with a focus on entrepreneurship in the Honors College. He will start this January.
Santiago was nominated for the scholarship by staff in the Northern Essex PACE Program, a federally funded student support program which he participated in. When he first received his congratulatory email, he thought it might be a joke, since he didn’t know he had been nominated. “I was super happy. Things like that don’t happen to everyone. Who doesn’t know Oprah.”
The scholarship was created after Winfrey spoke at a 2018 UMass Lowell event that raised $1.5 million for scholarships through ticket sales and sponsorships. Winfrey matched that figure with another $1.5 million to create a $3 million scholarship fund.
Recipients of the Oprah Winfrey Scholarship are selected based on academic need and commitment to academic achievement.
Santiago has always been an entrepreneur, selling bracelets and hats from his father’s barber shop in New York City and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards as a kid.
Last year, he started his own business, Minds with a Purpose, a networking platform designed to bring together the Lawrence community including local businesses to do “good works” in the city.
He organized a “giveback challenge” which encouraged good deeds that were shared on social media; “A Merry Christmas Giveaway”, which supplied 70 people in need with winter clothing; and “Music Mondays”, events showcasing the talents of local performers.
Because most Minds with a Purpose initiatives were focused on live events, he had to change course when the pandemic hit.
For now, his focus is on helping business owners and performing artists market their businesses on digital channels such as social media; marketing his new clothing brand through 35 brand ambassadors located throughout the country; and launching a new podcast featuring conversations with successful entrepreneurs.
While at Northern Essex, Santiago participated in National Leadership Society; the Civic Scholars Program, which provides an opportunity for students to explore and grow their civic knowledge and skills; and the Alpha Beta Gamma business honors society. He also had an internship with the college’s Athletic Department, where he ran the department’s social media accounts and created photography and videos.
Santiago is excited about the direction his life is taking. “It would not have been possible without Northern Essex and its amazing teachers. I don’t regret not starting at a four-year college.”
He’s also happy that financial aid and scholarships covered the full cost of his education at Northern Essex.
After receiving the scholarship, Santiago sent Oprah a personal thank you, sharing his goals and his desire to meet her.
As Santiago has learned, anything is possible. “I put out the positive energy and who knows what will happen.”
Northern Essex offers a Business Transfer Associate Degree which can be transferred easily into bachelor’s degree programs at college’s such as UMass Lowell, UMass Amherst, Merrimack, Salem State, Boston University, and more. The college also offers associate degrees in Accounting, Business Management, Business Management: Healthcare Practice, and Hospitality Management was well as a Culinary Arts certificate.
Northern Essex Community College has campuses in both Haverhill and Lawrence. It offers approximately 60 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth. Each year, 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 2,000 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley. For more information, visit the website at www.necc.mass.edu or call 978-556-3700.