Class of 2022 admittees credit Peabody afterschool program

Moments after learning she had been admitted into Yale College’s Class of 2022, Laura Padilla wept into her brother’s shoulder.

Laura Padilla in a Yale sweatshirt
Laura Padilla, Wilbur Cross High School

I thought of my mom and her constant encouragement, of my brother’s unconditional support and honesty, and my father’s hope,” said Padilla, a senior at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven. “The admission letter was addressed to me but this triumph is not only my own.”

Padilla, one of 842 applicants admitted in December through the college’s early action program, is no stranger to Yale’s campus. Since the ninth grade, she has participated in the EVOLUTIONS Afterschool Program (EVO) at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, which provides 120 students from New Haven and West Haven high schools experiences and instruction intended to spark a passion for the sciences and prepare them for college.

Padilla is one of four EVO students to gain early admittance to Yale this year, joining Maya Geradi, her classmate at Wilber Cross, Mahdeen Khan from Hillhouse High School, and Jacob Spell from Creed High School.

She said the weekly program has given her valuable exposure to various STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — while providing a community of friends and mentors who contributed to her success.

Jacob Spell portrait
Jacob Spell, Creed High School

EVO has helped me understand the importance of reaching out for help,” Padilla said. “From the beginning of the program, my teachers have offered me their support through academic counseling and have encouraged me to push past barriers in my learning.”

The free program promotes STEM literacy, college preparation, career awareness, and the development of certain skills that facilitate success in the classroom and workplace, such as communication or leadership skills. It includes a weekly class led by Yale students centered on STEM-related activities, monthly workshops and special events, and field trips to the Peabody Museum’s collections, Yale laboratories, and other science museums. The program also provides opportunities for paid internships and work experiences at the Peabody and Yale research labs.

Andrea Motto, the Peabody’s manager of public and youth engagement, said at least one EVO student has gained admission to Yale, through early action or regular decision, in each of the past five years. Three EVO students were admitted to Yale last year through regular decision, said Motto.

I meet these students in ninth grade, and they are often timid freshmen who may or may not have thought much about college and they grow into these amazing young adults capable of accomplishing so much,” she said. “It is very gratifying.”

Maya Geradi
Maya Geradi, Wilbur Cross High School

Khan was participating in a math competition the day he learned his application to Yale was accepted.

I had just finished the final team round when I got an email from Yale Admissions saying my profile had been updated, and that was when reality set in,” he said. “This was the moment where I would find out if all of my hard work paid off or not.”

He felt a knot in his chest as a flimsy internet connection made opening the admissions portal an agonizing chore. He saw a video in the portal but couldn’t open it.

It wasn't until I read my acceptance letter that I felt the weight get off my chest, and I felt all hot because of the excitement and happiness,” he said. “I immediately called all of my family and friends and told the rest of my math team the news.”

Khan, who applied to EVO after Motto gave a presentation on the program at his high school, said the program introduced him to a variety of valuable and challenging STEM-related experiences. He recently got a job with the Peabody Museum’s video production team through the program. Previously, he had worked as a web designer there and as a “museum interpreter,” teaching Peabody visitors about the science portrayed in the exhibits on display. The program also provided him a research opportunity at a biomedical engineering lab on campus.

Mahdeen Khan portrait
Mahdeen Khan, Hillhouse High School

EVO has done so much for me in regard to my academic career,” he said, adding that the program’s social aspects — Halloween parties, overnights at the Peabody, college trips — helped him forge lasting friendships. 

EVO connects students from all over the New Haven area and brings them closer together,” said Khan. “I met some of my closest friends because of this program, friends I can rely on to stick around for years to come.”

Padilla said the program boosted her self-confidence and introduced her to challenging concepts and interesting people.

EVO has helped me feel comfortable sharing my ideas without fearing others’ judgment,” she said. “It is a program where students with different interests come together to contribute to some of the best conversations. EVO is not only an academic program, but a place where you can grow, learn, and share memories with smart, caring, and passionate people.”

EVO is not only community-oriented, but community supported, Motto said. The Peabody relies largely on the generosity of local donors to sustain the program.

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