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TORCH Alums Mentor Younger Generation

May 29, 2024

Several TORCH alumni volunteered with the Northfield Middle School TORCH program during the 2023-24 school year, including three St. Olaf College students who graduated on Saturday, May 25: Athziri Marcial Rodríguez, a biology major who plans to study medicine and clinical genetics; Jose Gonzalez Ramirez, a chemistry major who plans to become an optometrist; and Angie Oscal Orrego, a Spanish major who is interested in marketing.

As Page Scholars at St. Olaf, they were required to dedicate at least 50 hours to tutoring and mentoring youth in grades K-8. All three said they enjoyed tutoring the middle school TORCH students and exposing them to college and career possibilities. 

Read more below about each of the recent graduates!

Athziri Marcial Rodríguez

Photo: Athziri Marcial Rodríguez speaks at St. Olaf’s First-Generation College Celebration on Nov. 6, 2023.

Athziri Marcial Rodríguez grew up in Northfield, attended Greenvale Park Elementary School, and became connected to TORCH in sixth grade. In middle school, she attended Summer BLAST, an academic achievement and enrichment program held at Carleton College, where an AmeriCorps mentor told her, “You’d be a really good candidate for Carleton.”

A first-generation student, Marcial Rodríguez said she carried that encouraging statement with her into high school, where she participated on the Mayor’s Youth Council and the TORCH advisory board. And although ultimately she didn’t go to Carleton, she applied to and was accepted at St. Olaf.

“I feel like things happen for a reason,” she said. “I have definitely made the most of what I have here, and I feel so supported, I would not go back and change anything.”

Between high school and college, Marcial Rodríguez spent a year in Brazil as a Rotary exchange student. Her experience there, where she attended a technical school in the sciences and took classes in Portuguese, inspired her to major in biology. It also inspired her to continue learning Spanish, which she grew up speaking but had never studied academically. 

At St. Olaf, Marcial Rodríguez worked as an assistant in the Spanish department, served as a mentor to other college students of color who were pursuing STEM majors, and led a student organization called Salud Lingüística, where members learned medical terms in Spanish. She said this has helped her explain what she’s doing and learning to her parents, who grew up in Mexico. 

She was accepted into a post-baccalaureate program at Washington University in St. Louis and plans to pursue an MD/PhD, focusing on the genetic foundation of diseases, especially rare ones. 

Marcial Rodríguez said volunteering at the middle school made her realize that she loves working with kids, and she hopes that other people in the community will realize how meaningful the TORCH program has been for students like her.

“All the TORCH students have so much potential, and they do show it; TORCH is also a safe space for many students to really feel welcome and seen. I’d love to always have that space and have those scholarships for them,” she said.

Jose Gonzalez Ramirez

Photo: Jose Gonzalez Ramirez, center, with TORCH eighth graders during a visit to St. Olaf in February.

Jose Gonzalez Ramirez grew up in Dundas and attended Bridgewater Elementary, where one of his favorite activities was serving on the safety patrol. He kept busy with swimming, soccer, and track through middle school and high school. Although he knew about TORCH because of his older sisters’ involvement, he didn’t take advantage of its resources until 10th grade, when he needed help with his Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry class.

“Everyone seemed like they were doing perfectly fine, and I was struggling. I wanted to push myself, and see what I was capable of,” he said. “I knew TORCH could help with homework, so I thought, ‘I’ll go see if they can help me.’ That’s how my relationship with TORCH got bigger.”

As a high school senior, Gonzalez Ramirez sought advice from TORCH High School Director Tessa Kiesow about financial aid resources and college scholarships. He decided to attend St. Olaf, where he participated on the swimming and track teams, and was able to finish his college education without incurring any debt.

“I was grateful for that, and I want to help other students understand how important that can be—how it doesn’t look like it’s important in the moment, but it is five or six years from now. College is really expensive,” he said.

Gonzalez Ramirez became interested in optometry the summer after his first year of college, when he was accepted into and completed a six-week virtual optometry internship. His part-time job at River Valley Eye Professionals has given him additional experience in that career field. He will attend graduate school this fall with the goal of becoming an eye doctor.

As a first-generation student, he said it was helpful to attend college in the community where he grew up—he could meet his parents regularly for dinner and seek the support of local resources and programs, while also serving as a role model for younger kids. In addition to volunteering for the RISE program in Faribault as well as TORCH, he led several St. Olaf student organizations, including one he co-founded that sought to inspire high school students of color to pursue education by pairing them with college student mentors of color.

“I wanted to be that role model for other students, and show them ‘you can do this, too. It will take a lot of work, but the amount of satisfaction you’ll get from it in the end is so meaningful,’” he said. 

Angie Oscal Orrego

Photo: Angie Oscal Orrego says she attended college because of TORCH. 

Angie Oscal Orrego was born in Guatemala and has lived in Northfield since she was 11 years old. She said she didn’t get involved in TORCH until high school, when staff members helped her with homework and taxes and took her on college tours of St. Olaf and Carleton. 

“I didn’t know I wanted to go to college, and I didn’t know it was a possibility. They said, ‘You like school, you can get scholarships,’” said Oscal Orrego, who is a first-generation college student. “The people in TORCH are the whole reason I’m in college and am graduating. Volunteering is my own way to give back—I don’t have money, but I can give back with my time.”

Oscal Orrego said she especially enjoyed helping the middle school students—including her younger sister and her cousins—get excited about math. She enjoys studying and learning and likes to approach math as a game, and she said her enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the students.

 “At the beginning, students were like, ‘ugh.’ And now, every time they get an answer right, we celebrate,” she said.

 In addition to her volunteer work at the middle school, Oscal Orrego was involved in two Latine organizations on the St. Olaf campus, ¡Presente! and SOMOS. 

When she was a TORCH student herself, most of the volunteers were white, she said. Now, staff and volunteers are more diverse.

 “It’s been amazing to go into the middle school and see the overall community that TORCH has created; it feels welcoming and accepting of everyone,” she said.

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