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Neighborhood Scholarship Program Helps Student Reach Potential

Learn how Northwestern Mutual helped one student reach his full potential. 

No one has higher expectations for Leonardo Fabian Serrato than Leo himself. The sophomore computer engineering major at UW-Milwaukee carries on his shoulders the dreams of his Mexican-born parents. He’s intent on being a role model for teens not to give up on their futures; and he doesn’t want to let down the mentors who showed him a path he couldn’t see for himself.

Serrato, 19, is one of 12 first-generation college students to benefit from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s Milwaukee Neighborhood Scholarship Program. In 2014, more than $85,000 in scholarships was awarded to students from three neighborhoods (Amani, Muskego Way and Metcalfe Park) that Northwestern Mutual has identified as being underserved.

NMF Leo Serrato Profile

Leo Serrato, 2014 Northwestern Mutual Foundation Scholarship Winner

“When I was in middle school I didn’t think of going to college,” Serrato said. “As a low-income student, the cost of education was too much for me.”

That’s when he began to see his parents, who sometimes struggled to put food on the table, working a little bit harder. “I am a reflection of my parents’ hard work,” he said. “They taught me if you work hard and have the right mindset, you will achieve great things.”

When Serrato moved to the U.S. from Mexico at 9 years old, he didn’t speak English. Now, he says proudly, he is more proficient in English than Spanish.

He credits the YMCA’s Sponsor-A-Scholar program for connecting him with two mentors who taught him how to be a successful student at Riverside High School and how to navigate the college application process, from studying for the ACT to filling out financial aid and scholarship applications. They helped him apply to college through President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which grants limited immigration benefits to undocumented residents of the U.S.

As a freshman at UWM, Serrato also worked full time as a delivery driver. He admits it was a lot to juggle, and was considering dropping out for a time to earn money. “I would have saved up to go back,” he said.

Receiving the scholarship from Northwestern Mutual has been life changing and he’s now setting his sites on a master’s degree after he completes his undergraduate studies. “If you accomplish one goal, you get a tougher one. That’s what makes you a strong individual,” Serrato said.

Personal success is just one motivation for Serrato. He wants to see others succeed as well, and currently serves as a UWM Sponsor-A-Scholar collegiate ambassador to four freshmen. “Part of becoming successful is helping to build the community,” he said. He stresses the importance of keeping a positive attitude, reaching out for help when you need it and having confidence in your abilities. “We are all capable of doing great things,” he said.

Serrato’s drive to succeed is motivated even more because of the scholarship. “I want to say thank you to Northwestern Mutual for seeing the potential in me. I want to show them how dedicated I am,” he said. “I’m going to be a role model for other students; I am going to strive for a little more.”

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