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8 El Paso ISD seniors named QuestBridge Scholars

(EL PASO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT Dec. 6, 2022) — Eight El Paso ISD seniors earned full four-year scholarships worth more than $200,000 to prestigious universities Thursday on QuestBridge National Match Day.

The eight Class of 2027 QuestBridge Scholars from Coronado, Franklin, El Paso and Chapin high schools and the Young Women’s Academy matched with Rice University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University.

They are among 1,755 students nationwide earning matches to one of QuestBridge’s 48 college partners. The generous financial aid package includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses. QuestBridge aims to increase the percentage of talented lower-income students attending the nation’s best colleges and to support them in achieving success in their careers and communities. 

EPISD’s QuestBridge Scholars are:

• Lajward Zahra, Young Women’s STEAM Prep, got matched with Rice University.

zahraHer classmates celebrated her news Friday with ‘Dress Like Lajward Day.’ The students wore long blazers and other accessories to match Zahra’s signature style. 

“It brought me so much joy and relief,” Zahra said about the match. “I was so happy. I could feel the strings of fate pulling at me.”

Zahra plans to study international relations at Rice and eventually go to law school. 

“QuestBridge has set me on the path toward becoming an international lawyer, something that often times requires going to rigorous and established schools for both undergrad and law school,” she said. “I definitely could not have done that without QuestBridge.” 

She is looking forward to her time at Houston for some non-academic reasons, too.

“Rice is literally the only place in the U.S. where you can get both good Mexican and Pakistani food. It’s something I’ve gotten so used to. It’s the perfect place for me.”

• Leonardo Lopez Sarmiento, Franklin High School, got matched to the University of Chicago. 

sarmiento“This is the best thing that’s happened to me ever,” he said. “It’s going to change my life. It’s already opened so many doors. So many more opportunities will continue in college and after that. I’m really grateful.”

He calls UChicago his dream school and looks forward to studying political science at the prestigious university. He had ranked UChicago as his No. 1 pick.

“The university’s physical beauty to the intellectual beauty, and the environment, seems so supportive and challenging,” he said. “I love that.”


• Vivian Mochizuki Barros, Franklin High School, got matched to Princeton University.

barros“I couldn’t believe it,” Mochizuki Barros said. “I was so happy. All my hard work paid off. I’m so glad it worked out.”

Mochizuki Barros plans to study ecology and evolutionary biology at the Ivy League school.

“Getting matched means I get the opportunity to go to a really good school. I’m really excited about all the opportunities I’m going to have,” the Franklin HOSA president said.

Princeton is her dream school and the school she ranked as her first choice with QuestBridge. Mochizuki Barros started researching the school after moving to El Paso from Rio Brazil.

“I like all the academic opportunities,” she said. “I moved here from Brazil so I didn’t grow up with college dreams from here. But when I found out about Princeton, I really wanted to go there.”

• Andrew Griñé, Coronado High School, got matched to Northwestern University.

grine“Before I opened the decision, I was very nervous and anxious. But once I saw my decision, I was super excited and felt very relieved that I would not have to keep worrying about the college application process,” said Griñé, an International Baccalaureate student.

Griñé, an accomplished trombone player and the school’s drum major, ranked Northwestern University as his first choice for a variety of reasons, including the strong fine arts program and he has family in the Chicago area.

“I wanted to go somewhere with a good music program which would also allow me to have the academic freedom necessary so that I could double or triple major or have multiple minors so I could maintain my various academic and creative interests in college,” he said. “Northwestern's academic environment promotes its students to pursue multiple majors and minors and I found the leeway in course scheduling to be very appealing.”

• Natalia Diaz, El Paso High School, got matched to Princeton University.

diaz“I can really only begin to describe what matching to Princeton means to me. Most people could only hope to receive a full-ride or get into an Ivy League school,” Diaz said. “I still can’t believe I got both. I have 11 siblings, so paying for college has always been a concern. QuestBridge is a true lifesaver.”

When ranking schools, she had trouble deciding between Yale and Princeton for her No. 1 spot – ultimately selecting Yale as her top choice. The opportunity to experience all four seasons of weather also swayed Diaz’s decision to select the prestigious universities.

“I told myself God would decide for me. I couldn’t be more grateful with how things turned out,” she said. “When I opened the email, I saw congratulations and immediately started tearing up. I was already so grateful, but when I continued reading, I was in complete disbelief. I matched Princeton. I burst into tears.”

• Laura Elnairab, El Paso High School, got matched with the University of Chicago.

enairaib“I feel that UChicago saw me not just as a number, but as a whole person through my writing,” Enairab said. “It means they saw me for not just my grades but for my leadership skills and creativity – my authentic self.”

Elnairab found herself drawn to UChicago for its location in the tech hub, renowned professors, small classes and game lab. At UChicago, Enairab plans to explore the Weston Game Lab and learn to code virtual games.

“The QuestBridge Match is the greatest opportunity I have had in my school career,” she said. “I never would have known that I could not only be accepted to a top school, but also go for free.”

• Katherine Hernandez Ware, Chapin High School, got matched to Princeton University.

ware“Matching with Princeton means everything to me,” Hernandez Ware said. “Upon opening the email, I was utterly shocked. It didn’t click for me that I would match and, not to mention, with a school like Princeton. There was such intense relief and awe at the stressful journey up to that point finally reaching its end and producing an outcome I could be proud of.”

Hernandez Ware, who ranked Princeton among her top five schools, looks forward to the academic opportunities offered at the Ivy League school.

“I enjoy literature and the arts, and Princeton has nationally-ranked programs that generally make it a great school to attend,” she said. “Even if it wasn’t my first choice, I am unbelievably happy with being able to call it my future.”

• Savannah Sanchez, Chapin High School, got matched to the University of Notre Dame.

sanchez“Matching with Notre Dame means that all the years of work, research, and stress have finally come to a spectacular end,” Sanchez said. “It goes to show that the work that you put into things gives back in return. Especially when it comes to college, being matched with such a remarkable school is exceedingly gratifying.”

Like her QuestBridge peers, Sanchez won’t have to worry about finances and can keep her full attention on the exceptional opportunities available to her at Notre Dame.

“I wanted to go to Notre Dame because of its extreme academic prestige and it’s amazing research facilities,” Sanchez said. “I also love that they have really good sports teams.”