Parkinson Scholarship winners share stories for future first-gen students

  • Freshmen Javier Martinez and Jonathan Lozano unexpectedly earned the Parkinson Scholarship for first-generation students from immigrant families in 2018 and hope that more first-gen students reach for similar opportunities.

  • Javier is a Wichita native who overcame early struggles through music, and eventually rose to be student body president of Wichita Kapaun Mount Carmel Catholic High School prior to attending WSU.

  • Jonathan was born in Mexico, moved to Texas and finally to Topeka over the course of his life and quickly overcame language barriers to become an academic success.

Javier Martinez and Jonathan Lozano hadn’t even intended to earn Wichita State’s inaugural Parkinson Scholarship in 2018. They had both competed for the Distinguished Scholarship Invitational (DSI).

“I was really surprised to get that call because at first Sheelu sent out a call to me telling me that, unfortunately, I didn’t win the DSI scholarship,” Javier said.

Jonathan received the same call. A few weeks later, Jonathan had just begun winter break during his senior year in high school when he received another call from Sheelu Surender, director of financial aid at WSU.

He vividly recalled what Sheelu told him on the phone that day.

“’We’ve selected you as a finalist for a brand-new scholarship we’ve established.’ I was really surprised,” Jonathan said.

They won.

“Through this scholarship, I’m at a great university and getting an education my parents couldn’t have,” Jonathan said.

Javier hopes that more Hispanic youth strive to achieve more for their future. In his experience, many of his Hispanic friends didn’t feel like they could advance in life.

“They didn’t want to apply for scholarships. They felt that the point they were at then was the highest point they would achieve. There’s so much more,” Javier said.

Javier encourages high school students to seek scholarships and continue their education.

“You go to school not just to learn how to write a paper. You go to school because that’s one stepping stone into a whole staircase of life. Eventually you’ll reach the top,” Javier said.

That’s not to say it will be easy.

“As a first-generation student, I couldn’t ask my parents, ‘To what scholarships should I apply?’ I couldn’t ask them, ‘Can you please revise my essay?’ Because they were busy working,” Jonathan said.

Javier and Jonathan know the struggles firsthand, and they are appreciative of their education. They both hope to return the favor through advocacy and strong careers.

“I’m very grateful for this. I want to give back to my community,” Jonathan said.

Former Kansas Governor and WSU alumnus Mark Parkinson and his wife, Stacy, established the scholarship in their name to help children of immigrant families earn their degrees at WSU.

The scholarship is meant to help a new generation of immigrants understand that they are not alone, and that they are a vital part of the nation’s future.

Although two $34,000 awards were given in its inaugural year, only one student will earn the award in future years.

Javier's Story

Javier was born and raised in Wichita. He attended St. Margaret Mary Catholic school and Kapaun Mount Carmel Catholic high school prior to attending WSU.

Early in life he struggled with ADHD-like symptoms, but when he began playing violin in the third grade, his problems began to diminish.

“It helped me to the point at which I could figure things out on my own, and my parents could help me as well. My grades got higher and higher, I started getting that level of focus and interest that helped me succeed in school.”

His excellence in school motivated him to keep pushing forward, and he applied for scholarships when he looked into college.

Javier became student body president at Kapaun, involved himself in many student organizations and maintained a high GPA.

Javier’s parents supported him as best they could in the journey and made sacrifices to ensure that Javier could achieve his dreams.

“Neither one of my parents had the opportunity to go to college. My dad works in construction and my mom works at a tailor shop,” Javier said. “One thing they always told me was, ‘We don’t want to see you where we are now. We do not want to see you working in construction or fixing clothes.’”

At the time he was about to graduate from high school, his mother lost her job. With a family of four children operating on one parent’s income, college was becoming an unlikely option.

“Without this scholarship I probably would not have been able to go here,” Javier said.

He quickly developed an interest in designing and building airplanes and wanted to try aerospace engineering. However, he eventually settled on mechanical engineering for his major.

“I started to realize that going into a profession in mechanical engineering would maximize the amount of jobs available to me,” Javier said.

Jonathan's Story

Jonathan’s storied past stretches thousands of miles, from Mexico to Wichita.

“I was born in Durango, Mexico, in a small town called Peñon Blanco. I was raised by my mother to the age of 3, and when I was 3, she immigrated to the U.S.” Jonathan said.

When he was 8 years old Jonathan followed his mother to the U.S. He lived in Plano, Texas, with his parents.

It wasn’t easy. Jonathan’s family faced economic hardships and struggled to adjust to their life together in the U.S.

“On the first day of school in American school, a student walked up to me and said, ‘You smell like Mexican,’” Jonathan said.

Jonathan didn’t speak English at the time, but he remembered the phrase and learned what it meant later on.

His teacher told him he wouldn’t make it past the ninth grade because he didn’t speak English. However, Jonathan completed English learners’ classes in the sixth grade and moved to honors-level courses.

He moved to Topeka, Kansas, in the seventh grade. In high school at Shawnee Heights, Jonathan became involved in National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and many other organizations while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.

Now, Jonathan majors in biological sciences with a biomedical emphasis, a pre-med path and a minor in Spanish.

“The gap of Hispanic doctors in the U.S. right now is really large,” Jonathan said.

He hopes to become a general trauma or orthopedic surgeon with a focus on athletic injuries.

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