David Cruz grew up in Washington Heights and his friends didn’t talk about college – or getting an education.
But encouragement from his mother, his participation in a Harlem-based college prep program and his own determination has Cruz heading for Penn State.
“I’m pretty excited. I can’t really stop thinking about just going there already,” said Cruz, 17, who will be the first in his family to go to college. “It’s pretty overwhelming. It’s a lot to look forward to.”
Cruz, a senior at A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in Harlem, plans to study engineering when he starts college in the fall, and he hopes his college plans will inspire others in his neighborhood.
“My friends didn’t talk much about college or education. They were just interested in doing sports and hanging out in the streets,” he said, adding he also participated in wrestling, football and the JROTC program.
But Cruz received some advice from his mother that stuck with him.
“My mom would tell me to focus on school,” he said. “I tried putting my thoughts toward things that would benefit me.”
As a sixth-grader, Cruz started going to the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF), a college prep program, and it sparked his interest in college.
“They would take us on college tours,” said Cruz, who already has plans to “create and invent something that can be an asset to people.”
He said the program, located on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. near W. 125th St., also exposed him to options outside of sports.
Cruz learned how to manage a restaurant, how to create comics and his proudest accomplishment was leading his robotics team to place 5th out of 72 teams at a competition at the Javits Center.
“HEAF has kept me on the right course. Coming to HEAF, they helped me through the college [application\] process…My mom is really proud of me,” he said, noting he recently took his 14-year-old brother to Penn State when he went for a new student orientation event.
“He was pretty interested [in Penn State\],” he said of his younger brother.
Nico Tynes, director of high school programs at HEAF, said he was proud of Cruz’s success.
“He always listened to what we had to say,” said Tynes, adding he was impressed by his abilities during the robotic competition. “He took a leadership position…It was amazing to see him come alive. I’m really proud of him.”
Danielle Moss Lee, president and CEO of HEAF, said Cruz will continue to receive support once he starts college.
“The goal is not only to send kids to college, but to make sure they graduate,” she said. “I want other kids in Washington Heights to see what David is doing…it definitely sparks an interest in the community…it’s contagious.”