Lucas Lee and Suren Jamiyanaa are among the 14 LEDA scholars in the Class of ’19.
Beverly Schaefer
Princeton supports — and benefits from — a national program for high school students

Lucas Lee and Suren Jamiyanaa are among the 14 LEDA scholars in the Class of ’19.
Lucas Lee and Suren Jamiyanaa are among the 14 LEDA scholars in the Class of ’19.
Beverly Schaefer

About 100 high school students spent seven weeks of their summer at Princeton as Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) scholars in a national program that develops the academic and leadership potential of talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

LEDA, now in its 11th year, provides leadership development, writing instruction, standardized-test preparation, college guidance, and a taste of residential life for high-achieving students who may not have considered attending an elite university.

Students are recruited during their junior year of high school and attend the program at Princeton the following summer. During their senior year, they receive help with the college-application process.

More LEDA scholars have gone on to attend Princeton — 86 — than any other college in the country. This fall, a record 14 scholars are entering Princeton with the Class of 2019, bringing the total number of LEDA scholars on campus to 48.

“It is obvious that this steady supply of LEDA scholars makes Princeton one of the greatest direct beneficiaries of the program,” said Nikolaus Hofer ’17, president of the LEDA Scholars at Princeton. “LEDA creates a resource of some of the greatest potential this country has to offer, and it is one that Princeton pulls from wisely. ”

Admission dean Janet Rapelye praised the program for “the incredible foundation it gives these students to navigate a university campus and to feel comfortable in a university setting — it raises their expectations for what they can achieve.”

President Eisgruber ’83 announced the expansion of the University’s partnership with LEDA last October. “Increasing the number of students at Princeton from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and providing them with the resources they need to be successful, are high priorities for us,” he said.

PAW spoke to three LEDA scholars who attended this year’s summer program and two former participants who are starting their freshman year at Princeton this month.

Suren Jamiyanaa ’19

Birmingham, Ala.

Planned major: Mechanical and aerospace engineering. When I was a little girl, I wanted to work for NASA. But maybe I’ll go into industry, or teach.

Accepted by: Princeton, University of Alabama, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston College, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Why she picked Princeton: College wasn’t really something my family focused on. ... LEDA made Princeton, and other competitive schools, such a tangible thing for me to consider. I got a lot of financial aid from Princeton, which was a big factor in my decision, but also the fact that there are all of these LEDA scholars here on campus.

The most important thing she learned from LEDA: Getting rid of the fear of asking questions. I now approach education in such a different way than before.

On the LEDA connection: We’re like family. ... That’s something I loved about LEDA — the community aspect and having these deep connections with people.

Lucas Lee ’19

Fresno, Calif.

Planned major: I’m thinking about majoring in neuroscience, because I know I’d like to become a neurosurgeon.

Accepted by: Princeton, Brandeis, UC-Berkeley, UC-Irvine, UCLA, and UC-San Diego.

Favorite part of the LEDA experience: Having humility thrown back at me and being reminded of the fact that there are people who are smarter than I am. There are people who think differently from me, and I can learn something from them.

How LEDA is different from classes back home: Teachers at my school wouldn’t ask you to elaborate on why you think something. I found it really enjoyable to be able to argue and debate in class for hours on end [in the LEDA program].

On the LEDA connection: It helps to know that I’m not going to be alone — there are already people I know here who have gone through similar circumstances.

Yasmin Abdillahi

Roseville, Minn.

Her college list: MIT, University of Chicago, Columbia, Tufts, and Carleton College.

Her thoughts on college: My dad told me early on, “If you want to go to college, you’d better do well in school because I’m not going to be able to pay for it.” He encouraged me to go to math tutors and study a lot, and he’s really instilled in me the value that education is really important.

How she’s changed since LEDA: Now I realize how important it is to be an active citizen. One of our teachers asked if we knew who our representatives and senators are. Very few people said yes, and that’s a tragedy. Because why did we fight so hard for suffrage if we’re not even going to vote?

From left, Alyssa Johnson, Kayle Spikes, and Yasmin Abdillahi took part in LEDA’s program on campus this summer.
From left, Alyssa Johnson, Kayle Spikes, and Yasmin Abdillahi took part in LEDA’s program on campus this summer.
Beverly Schaefer

Alyssa Johnson

St. Louis, Mo.

Her college list: Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and Boston College.

How LEDA changed her: I’m starting to think differently — I’m not just allowing information being fed to me to just marinate in my head. I’m actually looking at it and analyzing it and seeing if I actually agree with it.

What she’s bringing back to her hometown: I’m going to try to start a support club for juniors and seniors in the college-application process so that everyone can work together and be supportive, peer-review each other’s essays, and look into different colleges. There are so many kids in my school with great potential who can go so far, but they don’t understand where they can go — they just think they’re limited.

What she learned about herself: I’m very accepting, but I’ve learned that other people are just as accepting and that I shouldn’t be so guarded. Usually I’m by myself, but this summer I learned how to build a community better and work with others.

Kayle Spikes

Las Vegas, Nev.

His college list: Swarthmore, Columbia, Carleton College, Wesleyan, and Occidental College.

His favorite part of the LEDA experience: Being in a classroom where everyone is open-minded to your interpretations of certain subjects. Everyone makes sure that your voice is heard and even if they don’t necessarily agree with what you say, they understand. That’s very different from home.

How he’s changed since LEDA: During the first week here, I said a slang derogatory term. Another scholar heard me and said, “Excuse me, what did you say?” And I kind of brushed it off. But after the discussion was over, she took me aside and said, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again.” So I’d say I’m a lot more conscious about what comes out of my mouth, and I think I’m more empathetic toward others’ emotions.

Interviews conducted and condensed by A.W.