Two YES Prep juniors are spending their fall semester in DC as part of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL). Yvan Mfinyom of YES Prep North Forest and Millie Hernandez of YES Prep Southeast are two of just 24 students selected for the prestigious program, intended to “provide intellectually motivated high school juniors who represent the diversity of the United States with the best possible opportunity to shape themselves into ethical leaders who create positive change in our world.” We interviewed Yvan and Millie about their experiences in the highly-selective program.
How did you become interested in the SEGL program?
I went to a presentation one weekend where a YES Prep student shared his experiences with SEGL. From there, I got interested in the program. I was excited about spending a semester away from Houston. I wanted to visit embassies and talk to the people who worked there. I wanted to look out my window and see the Capitol. The area we were going to be living in was very compelling to me.
Walk me through the process of applying. How did you end up here today?
I completed an application with essays. I was worried that I didn’t have high enough grades and that my essay was bad. But when I got the letter, I just yelled. My dad didn’t know what was going on. But we read over the financials together and saw that, even with the financial aid, we’d still owe $6,000 for tuition, room, and board, which was a lot. But my sister, who is in college, said she’d help me fundraise for it. YES Prep gave me a scholarship for $1,000, but I was able to raise the rest with a gofundme campaign and by selling snacks before and after school.
What is your daily schedule like at SEGL?
School is not traditional. It’s never the same every day. A typical Monday, we wake up. We have to be ready by 8 a.m. and commute to school in small groups on the metro. We have to be at the academic building by 9:00. At 9:00, we have morning meeting. After that, we go to class, but it’s not the same every day. I have history, calculus, and physics on Monday. But on Tuesday, I have history, calculus, and French. The classes are different each day. We go to class until 4:30, and then we have chore period where we clean up the academic building. We commute back to dorm and have mandatory exercise period where you can run around or play soccer. Then you return around 6:00 or 6:30 and get ready for dinner, which is at 7:00. We eat until 7:30 and then have chore period again. Then we have study hall from 8:00-10:00. it’s quiet, and we have space to do homework, which is quite extensive. Wednesdays are our ethics and leadership day. We discuss our case studies and don’t have core classes. We always have a guest speaker or we travel to a speaker at an embassy, think tank, or institute.
Tell us more about the Ethics and Global Leadership aspect of your semester.
It’s the highlight of the program. We study things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syria, and terrorism. For example, one case study we did was the Rwandan genocide. We watched Ghosts of Rwanda as a group. We had a debrief discussion about when developed countries should intervene in the politics of other countries. What should the US have done? Our guest speakers were Ambassador George Moose, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the genocide, and Carl Wilkens, the only American to choose to stay in Rwanda during the genocide.
How do you think this semester will impact your future?
Before coming here, I wanted to go to college to pursue engineering. Mostly because that’s what my dad did. I’ve heard it’s a lucrative job. That’s an important goal to me– to have enough money to live comfortably and provide for my family. Now, being here, I don’t really want to go into engineering anymore. I realize that one of the reasons I chose engineering was because engineering was easy for me. I’ve been good at math and engineering. It’s highly math-based. Now I want to focus on a field where I’m more interested. I don’t know what that is yet. I just know I don’t want to go into a job just because it will be easy.
What do SEGL students do on the weekends?
We have Saturday Academy, where we go to museums, plays, and different events around DC. We went to opening week of the National African American History museum. We went to a play called Come from Away. Another week, we had two options: going to see the DC United or watch a play performed by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. We also have a breakfast that students help cook. We work together.
What has been your favorite moment thus far?
We went on an odyssey on a Wednesday. They gave us three distinct locations where we could go to and reflect in DC. I went to an area between the Washington monument and the White House. My second was Chinatown. My third was the MLK memorial. I enjoyed that experience, going around DC by myself. It was an opportunity to be myself and reflect.
Why were you interested in applying to SEGL?
At first, I wasn’t super excited. I didn’t know what to expect. I was apprehensive about leaving YES for a full semester. But I spoke to Maribel Nava, who’d gone through the process. She and her mom met with me and my mom to answer our questions. It was really valuable to talk to her about what it was like and how she grew through the program. That motivated me to go ahead and apply. The more I thought about it, the more I thought the experience would give me a unique perspective I could learn from. I’m not super interested in studying political science, but I’ve definitely been learning so much from everyone here. The one-on-one encounters with speakers have been super valuable and broadened my perspective.
What is your day-to-day like at SEGL? What classes are you in?
A normal day would begin with waking up around 7:10 and getting ready to leave the house before 8:00. We walk to the nearest metro station. It’s interesting to walk past the Supreme Court and see the Capitol right across the street. We take the metro to DuPont circle, another great block to see and observe of DC. We begin school at 9:00, but the schedule is different is every day of the week. I have pre-cal, English, and physics. I’m also taking history and comparative government.
Tell us more about the Ethics and Global Leadership work you do.
We usually have time dedicated to ethics and global leadership on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Mondays is the introduction to the case study. Wednesdays is usually the whole day and we have a guest speaker in the afternoon. Once, we visited a non-profit and were able to analyze the way they function. In groups, we created a business plan for a non-profit and came up with a pitch for someone who might donate money to us.
What projects do you work on as part of SEGL?
We have three capstone projects. One is a social venture project, which is something to bring back to your community– however you define it. The project is intended to make an impact on that community.
What are you doing outside of school in DC?
We have a planning committee that meets Tuesday at lunch. We brainstorm ideas for upcoming events or service projects. One of my roommates organized a trip to Romeo and Juliet. There was also the H Street festival, which helped us get to know the culture of DC. My favorite was our trip to the African American History Museum. We spent two hours there and only got through the first floor.
What are the accommodations like?
We live in a town home, which if very comfortable. There are 15 girls and I have 3 roommates. It’s been fun to learn and grow together.
What’s been your favorite moment thus far?
One of my favorite things has been engaging in discussions with my classmates. I’ve had the chance to learn from my classmates. I’ve learned so much from everyone thus far. Everyone has such a different background and something very valuable to share. It’s such a diverse group from all over the US. I’ve been able to learn so much from everyone’s experiences.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Speaking out more. I’m more of an introverted person, and it was challenging to participate more in class in the whole group. I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone.
What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from being a part of SEGL?
I’ve learned never to be afraid to ask questions. In a formal discussion or just asking friends what do you think of this issue or of this speaker. That’s something I’ve been reluctant to engage in at first. It’s taken me a while to get a feel of everyone here and to grow comfortable in the new environment.
How are the classes different from those at YES Prep?
The classes are more discussion-based. Homework is different too. Here, I can depend on my community of classmates and ask the girls I live with for help. It helps to gain motivation– being around people who are also doing the same homework and are all wanting to do well here.
Does it make you excited for college?
Definitely. I’m getting more of a college taste than any other program probably. The boarding school experience is similar to college. We can decide how to schedule our time and how much to spend on each assignment.
What are you thinking about for the future?
I don’t have a specific idea per se. I’m very open right now, and I’d like to keep that mentality. I’d be open to an Ivy League school. I’d also like to attend dental school at some point. I’m leaning toward the larger school in a city because it offers you more opportunities and experiences.