Meet some students who are bringing the best
By Stephen Wilson
When President Alison Byerly launched a new Strategic Direction for Lafayette College four years ago focused on affordability and distinction through growth, she also launched the President’s Challenge for Financial Aid, a fundraising initiative to bring the best students to Lafayette, regardless of their ability to pay. Here are a few of the many superstars who have been impacted by financial aid.
Taija Covey ’23
Major: Civil engineering
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Key background: Covey completed high school at University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus where she was in a host of academic programs, like Upward Bound, ACE Mentoring, and Academy Group. Academy Group is a program for “identifying, developing, and sustaining a diverse national pipeline of future leaders, employers, and change agents.” She is the first student from her school and from Academy Group to attend Lafayette in part because she had an alumni mentor connected to the program.
Why Lafayette? She applied to 17 colleges. “I was indecisive, so I decided to apply to them all in hopes for a better chance to get in,” she says.
She almost didn’t apply to Lafayette, even after a great meeting with an admissions counselor at her school and visiting campus in December 2018.
“I struggled with the admissions essay, not sure what to say when asked, ‘Why Lafayette?’,” she says.
Covey finally finished the essay by talking about the positive community she experienced when here.
“I never saw people so happy during finals week,” she says.
Ultimately, her cold feet turned warmer as she had a change of heart and submitted her application to ED2.
Financial aid was a key factor in why Covey chose to come to Lafayette.
She says, “Lafayette met 100% of demonstrated family need, which allowed me to receive a wonderful education without worrying about debt.”
Lived up to it: “It has been more than what I expected,” Covey explains. “There are so many opportunities.”
As a soon-to-declare engineering major, she receives many emails from the department, which are all helpful.
“The emails are full of valuable information such as internships, graduate programs, study abroad, and co-curricular activities,” she says.
While she can be indecisive, she has known since high school that she wanted to study engineering.
“I have a math and science foundation and am interested in architectural design theory,” she says.
She likes the strong feeling of community that comes in the classroom and faculty.
“I was sick last week, and my professors checked up on me,” she says.
Involvement: Covey is involved in National Society of Black Engineers and the Association of Black Collegians, and she enjoys African Caribbean Dance Group, which has held daily practices for an upcoming performance.
Her hangout is in Farinon College Center. On the second floor she has found a quiet study space with big windows; on the first floor she can interact with everyone coming through the doors.
Why financial aid is so important: “Not only is going to college extremely expensive, but going to a prestigious institution such as Lafayette College would have been out of the budget,” says Covey. “My father committed suicide, and the education expense was more than my mom could afford. Financial aid is very important to me, an African American girl from the south side of Chicago. And because of the need-based scholarship, I can focus solely on my education rather than be concerned about how I will pay for my education.”
Elizaveta Makarova ’21
Major: Biology with religious studies minor
Hometown: Doylestown, Pa.
Key background: Makarova was born in Belarus and lived there briefly before her family immigrated to the U.S. She returns often to visit family and has been able to learn how to speak, read, and write in Russian from her time spent there.
“My dad has a degree in linguistics, and one of the deciding factors of moving to Philadelphia was that he simply liked the sound of it,” she says.
Over the years, they slowly made their way farther north, jumping from suburb to suburb until landing in Doylestown.
Why Lafayette? Makarova wanted a college close to home because of her younger siblings and close-knit family, and an institution that is strong in biology and pre-med. When she toured the College with a friend, it was a lovely summer day.
“I didn’t know what I wanted until I came here,” she says.
But still fate would decide for her. She applied to six colleges—all ones she possibly would attend. Financial aid would be the deciding factor.
She says, “I thought, ‘Highest offer wins!’”
Lafayette provided the best package for her. What’s more. the financial aid team provides regular answers and support for her, helping educate her as she applies for various grants and scholarships.
Lived up to it: “This is the right place for me,” Makarova explains.
The students here share her passion for involvement and perfectionist tendencies.
“They don’t do things to be busy, but because they care and want to make the world better,” she says.
She loves the liberal arts core curriculum and her biology major.
“I adore my biology professors because they care so much about teaching, their research, and about who I am and what I know.”
She also loves the pre-med advisers who provide many resources and tools for success.
“They have better placement rates than some Ivy League schools,” she says.
Involvement: It runs the gamut! She is a teaching assistant in biology, a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, volunteers often at local food pantries, is a student athletic trainer during practice and games, and a resident adviser.
“This is my second year in a first-year women’s dorm,” she says. “While it can be difficult, I love being able to serve as a mentor for young women and help send them in the right direction,” she says.
If it weren’t for financial aid … “Before getting accepted to Lafayette, I did not know if I could afford college or even go at all. But once I was accepted and saw my financial aid package, I realized I could afford it by myself. It was the first time I realized I could study biology, and I could potentially go to medical school. Going to college for me and my family was never a guarantee. It was a huge weight off my shoulders.”
Chisom Njoku ’23
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Key background: Njoku’s father, a Nigerian immigrant, always talked about the opportunities in America, but this economics major wants to reverse that story by talking about what’s possible in Nigeria.
“I want to make opportunities possible there,” he says. “My goal is to give back both here and abroad.”
He knows a background in economics can help with that goal.
“The economy in Nigeria has corruption, but I believe one man can change the world, so wherever I step, I want to make an impact.”
“Enwere’m obi agu,” a phrase he refers to himself in his native tribe tongue, Igbo, translates to “I’m lion-hearted.”
“I already have the heart of a king but the mind of a hustler, which I find very beneficial and vital especially towards my future endeavors,” he says.
Why Lafayette? Njoku feels blessed to be a member of Washington, D.C. Posse 14. His high school career was dedicated to academics and basketball.
“I was chasing the best in the classroom and on the court,” he says.
He wanted to use one, the other, or both to get to college.
“Basketball was a ticket to success in the short term, but getting an education is the priority after watching my parents sacrifice so much to start life over here,” he says.
While the game helped him create a solid routine, he didn’t get the offers he wanted, and the recruitment process was very slow.
“God blessed me with Posse, which lifted a boulder off my shoulders,” he says.
He tried to be a walk-on player at the College, but space was capped so he serves as a team manager.
Lived up to it: Njoku attended Prologue, an admissions event for admitted students with a diverse range of identities.
“It was my first visit to campus, and I loved the vibe,” he says.
He came with an open mindset, wanting to see things for himself.
“I recognize that any place would be a culture shock for me, but it was clear it was a good environment,” he says.
Involvement: In addition to basketball team manager, Njoku is involved in Association of Black Collegians, Brothers of Lafayette, African Caribbean Dance, and Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization.
“I have an innovative spirit,” he says.
He did launch a clothing line in middle school.
“I see my future in places like the Dyer Center,” he says. “I see myself as part of a system that will uplift others through innovation by the grace of God.”
Why financial aid is so important: “Financial aid is important because it can bridge the gap between the present and one’s future. It helps grant opportunities to those who may not be as fortunate.”
Edward Santos ’22
Major: Neuroscience with French minor
Hometown: Bronx, N.Y.
Key background: While born in the Bronx, Santos spent the first eight years of his life in the Dominican Republic. When the family returned to the U.S., he didn’t speak any English. By high school, he was riding the six train to Central Park East, a highly rated high school with a 16-1 faculty to student ratio.
It’s what made Lafayette so attractive when he toured campus with his high school counselor. By that time, Santos had completed a cultural studies exchange program in Japan and a cultural learning program in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
“It inspired me to learn more about people’s cultures and languages,” he says.
Why Lafayette? He wanted to know his classmates and collaborate with his professors.
“I fell in love with campus on the tour,” he says. “The tour guides spoke so personally that I could see how many opportunities were here for me.”
At the time, he was thinking he’d study chemical engineering, but realized he wasn’t interested in it after taking a class during his first year. He loved his biology and psychology courses.
“Neuroscience made me think I could do both in a perfect way,” he says.
Lived up to it: He is planning to begin research work with James Dearworth, associate professor of biology, this spring.
“I will be helping Prof. Dearworth with his research on turtle retinas,” he says.
Pre-med, Santos feels this research will open new roads to him.
“If medical school is not for me, I will have done research, and there are so many routes I can take with it.”
Lafayette has opened several doors, which may not have happened if not for financial aid. He was in a program called Sponsor Education Opportunity that encouraged him to reach beyond what he thought was possible and not settle for a safe route. He applied to 22 colleges and was happy his top choice came through.
“It gives me such motivation to be successful,” he says. “I am grateful for this opportunity, so I want to take full advantage of it.”
Involvement: “There is always something to do, so I get involved in lots,” he says.
He is taking risks too. Never before a dancer, he is in Salsa/Bachata Club, dancing three days a week.
“An alum showed me a video when I was studying here in the summer before my first year,” he says. “And the people in the club are so fun and nice. We are a close group.”
Another opportunity was French. His high school only offered Spanish, but as a native speaker he longed for the French class he took in middle school. Add Hispanic Society of Lafayette and resident assistant (RA), and he is busy!
“I participated as a mentor during my junior year of high school and helped freshmen feel welcome, so being an RA seemed like a natural fit,” he says.
He is in Gates on a floor with first-year students, answering questions, making people feel confident and feeling good about all that is around them.
If it weren’t for financial aid … “I would not have had the chance to pursue my curiosity in learning. It has given me the vision to study neuroscience in French as part of my studies, and discover what lies out there and appreciate the experience of living away from home and discovering my passions.”
Liszeth Rodriguez-Meza ’21
Major: Civil and environmental engineering
Hometown: Red Bank, N.J.
Key background: Rodriguez-Meza was one of 32 women to graduate in the inaugural class from Trinity Hall, a new all-girls college preparatory high school in the Catholic tradition in Monmouth County.
It wasn’t an easy transition because she wouldn’t be going to high school with the friends she had known since first grade, but when Trinity Hall’s founder sought students, teachers recognized her potential, high expectations, and dedication to success.
Why Lafayette? She was adamant about moving far away for college, but when she attended a summer college program at Cornell, she decided that distance was as far as she wanted to venture from family.
“We are very close,” she says. “That’s when I realized how important they were as a support system.”
When she began college tours, her AP physics teacher was a female engineering graduate from Lafayette.
“She piqued my interest in engineering and the College,” she says.
Lafayette became her top choice, but she didn’t apply Early Decision.
“Financial aid was an important part in my decision, so I was afraid to commit in case 100% of my need was not met,” she says.
When her acceptance envelope arrived with the support she needed, all other offers disappeared.
“It was a done deal. I was coming to Lafayette.”
Lived up to it: “I love it here,” she says.
As a First Generation student, she found it hard to leave home, and everything was brand new for her and her family, adding extra challenges until she found support systems on campus.
She still finds herself explaining the ins and outs to her family so they understand the details, but she wants to make her parents proud.
“I have big aspirations,” she says. “When I get busy or down, they remind me of how far I have come and how much I have accomplished. It makes any challenge worth it.”
Involvement: She is a Gateway ambassador and in Women in Engineering, co-ed club volleyball, Engineers without Borders, American Society of Civil Engineers, and Alpha Gamma Delta. She spent 2019 spring semester in France.
“I had a teacher in high school who spoke four languages, and I found myself intrigued with French culture,” she says.
She lived in Grenoble and was able to travel to seven countries. While abroad and with the help of her adviser and friends at Gateway, she set up a summer internship at Traffic Planning and Design, a multi disciplined firm in Bethlehem.
As a Latina in engineering, she recognizes she occupies a small place in her industry, but it doesn’t faze her.
“People have only judged me based on what I can do, not who I am or what I look like.”
If it weren’t for financial aid …“I would not have had the opportunity to study abroad in Grenoble, France. More importantly, without financial aid, the possibility of attending college seemed difficult if not nearly impossible. I am forever grateful for the help financial aid has granted me.”
Erik Mathews ’22
Majors: Film & media studies (FAMS) and English
Hometown: Madison, Conn.
Key background: Despite building up the volleyball program and going on to win the conference championship during his senior year, Mathews was always into the arts. He began with musical theater in middle school and attended theater camp. By high school, Mathews was singing a capella, in choir, and devouring the one film course and one creative writing course offered.
Why Lafayette? The College was his third choice until his acceptance letter arrived.
“They had a quote from my personal essay in the letter,” he says.
It made him pause and remember the way his admissions rep would check in with him regularly.
“I realized that they really wanted me here,” he says.
Lived up to it: “The moment I stepped on campus, I began to connect with my peers,” he says. “Two random roommates assigned to me that year are now my best friends.All the guys on my floor became friends,” he adds.
He likes how nice people are and happy to be here. Faculty know him by name and push him to his limits.
“I think like I never thought before,” he says.
Mathews dove into the creative community, taking additional film and creative writing courses. With each class his ambitions changed from writer to screenwriter, from director of photography to director.
“I plan to study in Los Angeles next fall,” he says. “I have a creation in me as big as Harry Potter and the Marvel Universe.”
Involvement: Mathews is in FAMS Club and sings a cappella. He auditioned in front of the entire group, which was nerve wracking. When he got a callback, he was so worked up about it that he almost didn’t go. His mom talked some sense into him, and now he’s a member of Soulfege, the College’s co-ed a cappella group.
While he thought he’d play club volleyball, he was bitten by the ultimate bug—he was an orientation leader this past summer. The 13-hour days were “crazy, hectic, but rewarding.”
“I had 11 first-year students, so I was their first face, first friend, and anchor,” he says. “It was great to be surrounded by other orientation leaders who love Lafayette as much as I do.”
If it weren’t for financial aid … “I would not have attended Lafayette College. The financial aid package played a huge part in me feeling wanted and accepted by the school community. Without the help financially, and the message that stood with it, Lafayette wouldn’t have worked out for me. I would’ve missed the numerous amazing opportunities and people I’ve found on campus.”
Victoria Zay ’22
Majors: Government & law and Spanish with philosophy minor
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Key background: She spoke Hungarian in her home and studied Spanish in each grade level. In high school, she added German. In the summer before senior year, Zay participated in a cultural and language immersion program where she learned Arabic and then continued to study it her first year on the Hill.
She wants to be a lawyer, potentially working in international human rights law or criminal defense law, and feels like fluency in languages is important to make any client feel comfortable. That’s also why she has participated in black student and LGBTQ clubs.
“Not all people are treated fairly in the legal system,” she says. “So I want to become part of a system in order to make it better and have an impact on the larger community.”
That’s where the philosophy minor comes in—how to navigate the moral implications of defending a person who may be guilty.
Why Lafayette? “This building,” she says, looking around the foyer in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights. “I wanted a place as passionate about civil rights as I am.”
She also cites how the College is not a typical liberal arts institution.
“There is a diversity of thought here that helps pose critical thinking in classes,” she says.
When she toured Lafayette, she knew it was the school for her. Luckily her acceptance was accompanied by the most generous support of the offers before her.
“That made it even better to commit to coming here,” she says.
She loves that she has work study hours to help contribute to her college expenses.
Lived up to it: “I enjoy Lafayette,” she says. “As I get to know the institution, I can work to improve it and the community. Since I am involved in many parts of the College (academic, athletic, club, administration), I am able to see the perspectives and goals of each. Using that information, I am able to try and make improvements to each while keeping in mind the needs of the others.”
She works as a tour guide in order to share her excitement and passion about the College.
“It is the best way to connect with potential students and show them Kirby and talk about all of the academic and cultural programs to help the first-years transition to life on campus,” she says.
One thing that is not clear for this southerner who is north of the Mason Dixon Line is the passion for and culture around Wawa. But she’s been drinking the water, so to speak.
Involvement: She is in Women in Law and the Kirby Government and Law Society as well as a participant in some Kaleidoscope events.
“These are great forums to connect with others,” she says.
Another key is her walk-on role as a foilist on the fencing team. While her father taught her some things as a child, she never played on a team, yet she has a passion for the sport and quickly clicked with other team members.
Sure, she can be covered in bruises and scratches, but she loves the mental aspects of the sport as she works on techniques and attack strategies.
If it weren’t for financial aid … “I would not have the peace of mind knowing that I have made the best decision not only for me in choosing Lafayette College, but also for my family financially. Lafayette was always one of my top choices for college, and the generous financial aid package I received made me comfortable committing to such a big decision. Financial aid helped make the wonderful experience and education of Lafayette possible for me and my family.”
Joseph Noreika ’22
Major: Mechanical engineering
Hometown: Milford, Pa.
Key background: His public high school offered an introduction to engineering class that began his first year. By his senior year, he was one of 12 students to complete it.
As part of the course, he had to design, develop, prototype, and present his own device. As a car aficionado, his idea was a car roof heater.
“It was a piece of vinyl sheeting made with sinuously laid resistance wire,” he says. “As a guy with his car parked outside in the Pocono winter, I wanted to make something applicable to me.”
Why Lafayette? He wanted a small college close to home with a strong faculty-to-student ratio and emphasis on engineering.
“I want a career in automotive design or vehicle manufacturing, so the formula car during the engineering open house more than caught my attention,” he says. “I am determined to work on it.”
He likes the combination of conceptual thinking and physical work.
“I can sit in an office to dream and get my hands dirty,” he says.
Lafayette is known in his town as the place to be for this kind of approach.
Financial aid was a way to help him minimize the worry and financial stress on his family.
“I applied to a few schools, but none were as generous as Lafayette, which made coming here more feasible,” he says. “It was a real blessing.”
Lived up to it: “I got everything I was expecting,” he says. “Lafayette is a top-tier education, and there is so much to do on campus.”
He’s been able to expand his horizons and talk to profs when working to grasp new concepts.
“I love how tight knit it is here,” he says.
He shows that with his approach as a resident adviser (RA). He calls South Hall home where he makes the fourth floor feel like family.
“I lived in South as a first-year student where my RA proctored me and helped me out,” he says. “This is my chance to return that favor and do something that’s helpful. It feels less like a job and more like a way to build relationships with every person.”
He’s had Nacho & Nintendo nights and cupcake designing as fun ways to build community and make everyone feel comfortable.
Involvement: He will soon join American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is active in the tennis club and ski team. He’s been skiing since elementary school and competes in freestyle.
“I’m no daredevil, but it is fun,” he says.
Through winter break, the team competes at local resorts. Skiing is an outlet that helps relieve stress from the work.
He is hoping to score an automotive internship, maybe in the realm of crash-testing, perfect for the guy who does rails and jumps on icy mountains.
Why financial aid is so important:
“Financial aid has been the backbone that has allowed me to continue into higher education. The generosity of Lafayette College has made such a positive impact in my life as well as the lives of many other students who can now flourish academically and fulfill their goals. I strongly believe that financial aid is a critical factor that contributes to the success and prestige of the Lafayette student body.”
Autumn Paone ’22
Hometown: Gilbertsville, Pa.
Key background: Paone took many advanced placement courses in high school—three her junior year and five her senior year. It could be the competitive nature of her large high school or her own sense of overachieving. But as the oldest child and first generation student, she has something to prove and a lot she is figuring out along the way.
Why Lafayette? Paone was initially interested in schools below the Mason Dixon Line, but her mom kept urging her to look closer to home. While texting an AP chemistry question to a former high school friend who was a student at Lafayette, she first learned about the College.
She agreed to tour Lafayette, and it became her top choice.
“Only after coming here and seeing how academically rigorous it was did I realize that my southern schools truly lacked that competitive push and undergraduate focus,” she says. “I realized I wasn’t sure what I should look at until I saw this.”
But then she didn’t want to see anything more. She applied Early Decision.
“Again, I didn’t know the risk I was taking with that choice,” she says.
But she was determined to go here, and her family knows how stubborn she can get.
“Luckily, I received a financial aid package that allowed me to come here. There are so many opportunities here that other schools don’t offer. I’m eternally grateful.”
Lived up to it: Paone is in Madrid for spring 2020 term. She’s working to secure a neurology research opportunity in the summer, whether an EXCEL Scholar position on campus or at another institution, and is working with her Gateway adviser, professors, and mentor to figure out what’s best and feasible.
“I love neurology,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what I would study until I took the introductory course during my first year. It combines all of the aspects I love from psychology, chemistry, and biology.”
Involvement: Paone has tried a few things from private voice lessons to concert choir. But she is finding her groove as treasurer of the Newman Society and treasurer of Take Back the Tap, an initiative to reduce bottled water consumption. She also attends Bible study and works in the Office of Financial Aid.
As a former cross country athlete, she can be found in the gym often lifting weights as a way to manage her workload.
If it weren’t for financial aid … “I would not have had the opportunity to meet the incredible, intelligent people I have met here. Lafayette allows me to not only learn and get a degree, but be a part of so many other unique experiences on campus. Without financial aid, I would have missed out on countless things, such as the brand new science building, a hot air balloon on the Quad, and a campus job that I love. I am beyond grateful for what Lafayette financial aid has offered and continues to offer me, and I hope I can help give other students the same opportunities in the future.”