TOME — The future is bright for Valencia High School senior Andres Astorga, who was recently awarded a full-ride scholarship to renowned private research university, Johns Hopkins.
Johns Hopkins University, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is well-known for its pre-med education and is considered to be among the most prestigious universities.
Astorga initially never pictured himself going to a big university.
“My initial plans were to stay in state or go somewhere close to home,” Astorga said. “I was never expecting to go so far away.
“It’s kind of daunting because I’m the first in my family to go to college. It feels great though, especially after waiting so long and working so many months on the application.”
Astorga, who describes himself as a STEM-oriented student, is committed to a public health major in epidemiology upon his arrival at JHU, and has also been accepted into a master’s program.
“I am also going to double major in neuroscience or biomedical engineering, but I’m still trying to decide,” he said.
Astorga was inspired by his grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple years ago, to go into the medical field.
“He’s been able to witness that and it’s affected him,” said Andres’ father, Ivan Astorga. “He said, ‘I want to try and work on something that helps people.’”
Astorga has been in National Honor Society since his junior year at Valencia High School and has been in Upward Bound, a career associated after school program funded through the University of New Mexico, for all four years of high school. He loves music, and is a part of VHS’s jazz and concert band. He’s been playing the piano and saxophone for two years.
In July 2022, Astorga was accepted into a program called Youth Leadership Institute through an application process with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He attributes this as being integral to securing his scholarship from JHU.
“It was a five-day program at the University of Southern California. I had mentors who went to a bunch of different schools and they helped to broaden my horizon. They taught us the practical skills to get into college, how to receive aid and stuff like that,” he said.
It was here that Astorga became interested in applying to Johns Hopkins.
“My two greatest mentors there were David Gonzales and Carlos Rueda. They made me feel like it was possible to get into a college like Johns Hopkins and they made the process so much more streamlined,” he said.
After his participation in YLI, he became a HSF scholar, which helped to guide him through all aspects of the college process.
Astorga will be missing his family and friends, green chile and his dog, Apollo, but he is looking forward to being around a like-minded community at JHU.
“I’m really excited to be around other people who are just as happy to be there and just as motivated. It’s a different environment, but I think I’ll like it,” he said.
Astorga advises students seeking similar opportunities to engage in outside programs.
“It’s through these programs you’re able to find things that you like,” Astorga said. “I knew I wanted to go to college, but without YLI and without HSF, I didn’t know what for or why.”
For fellow first-generation college students, he emphasizes staying true to who you are and taking advantage of the many resources available.
“There’s so many scholarships for first-gen and limited income students,” he said. “You can find a lot of them online. My counselors also helped me.”
His mother, Julie Astorga, says she’s very proud of her son, but is also scared.
“The campus is incredible and I feel very comfortable with him there, but I’m not going to lie — I’m worried,” Julie Astorga said.
“We told him whenever you feel like you want to come home for the weekend, just let us know, we’ll fly you in,” she said as she reached for a tissue to dot her eyes. “I try not to show him, but it’s rough. He’s going to be very far away, but this is what he wants to do, and Johns Hopkins was his first choice.”
“You always wish for your kids to have it a little better than what you had,” Ivan said. “(Julie’s) dad and my parents are from Mexico. My mom didn’t see one day of school, not one day, and my dad went up until the third grade.
“I’ve told all my kids, and anyone’s kids I run into, get an education! But at the same time, we’re not pushy, saying, ‘You have to be the best.’ Never like that.
“I think for the most part, we just made it easy for him to focus on his education,” he said. “He always knew that, no matter what he was going to do, he was going to have our support, whatever it was.”
Ivan hopes others take away from Andres’ story that you can do anything you set your mind to and, “somehow, someway you can get it done. No matter what.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there — a lot,” Julie said.
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.