South Bronx native helps low-income students chase college dreams

Tyreece Santana
South Bronx native Tyreece Santana gives back to his alma mater Cardinal Hayes by helping junior and seniors in their path toward college.
Photo courtesy Tyreece Santana

South Bronx resident Tyreece Santana knows all too well the struggles of growing up surrounding by violence and raised without a dad. But he didn’t let those things stand in his way and now dedicates his career to helping inner-city kids in the Bronx chase their dreams of one day attending college.

Santana’s good fortune was aided being the recipient of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund and its Be a Student’s Friend program, which enabled him to attend and succeed in his Catholic high school, Cardinal Hayes.

“If it wasn’t for Inner-City Scholarship Fund, I wouldn’t be starting my master’s,” he said. “My goal is to start an engineering consulting firm someday and sponsor a student in-need through Inner-City, so that they can have a brighter future.”

The Inner-City Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition assistance to 11,000 students in catholic schools within the Archdiocese of New York, recently helped the College Advising Corps expand to serve students at Cardinal Hayes.

Santana gives back to his alma mater working as a college advisor for the College Advising Corps at NYU, helping juniors and seniors attending Cardinal Hayes.

Santana, 25, and his two brothers, Taquan and Trezon, were raised in Castle Hill by a single mom, Sande. She did the best she could, but Santana always felt a part of his life was missing. He didn’t meet his dad until he was in high school.

“I never understood why [my father] wasn’t there,” he said. “Until I knew more, I sort of hated him for it.”

Santana told the Bronx Times how while growing up in Castle Hill he was surrounded by gang activity, yet he always stayed focused on school. At age 12 his family moved to Kingsbridge, which he described as a much rougher neighborhood than Castle Hill. He credits his older brother, Taquan, 29, for keeping him on the right track.

“I owe him a lot for how I navigated through that [violence],” he said.

As he got older, Santana learned that although his mom worked a lot to provide for her kids, she also struggled with a drug addiction. He even recalled a time where his mother disappeared for hours, leaving him and his brothers wondering about her whereabouts.

Santana always dreamed of getting out of the Bronx and got his first taste of life outside of the borough when he attended the Fresh Air Fund summer camp in Massachusetts from ages 7-17.

He learned how to swim, ride a bike, kayak and much more. This exposed him to many different things he never seen experienced in the Bronx.

Things really changed for him when earned the Inner-City Scholarship, which took a financial burden off his mom’s shoulders and allowed him to attend Cardinal Hayes. “They basically helped my mom pay tuition,” he said.

He not only received a good education, but felt prepared to be the first in his family to go to college.

Santana applied to the College Advising Corps, and with their guidance ventured to the West Coast where he attended USC as a Gates Millennium Scholar with a full-ride scholarship awarded to 1,000 students every year.

College Advising Corps works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students who enter and complete higher education.

“It [USC] was amazing,” he said. “I grew up a USC fan. It definitely was mind blowing.”

He graduated in 2017 with Bachelor of Arts in communications. At first, he planned to stay in California but soon realized he wanted to make a difference in his hometown. Upon returning to the Bronx, he saw that the College Advising Corps had a NYU chapter and thought it was a perfect fit for him. After receiving a job offer, Santana requested placement at Cardinal Hayes to support the community that he credits with his success. Today, he helps students fill out college and FAFSA applications, prepares them for college interviews and organizes trips to local universities for student tours.

Giving back and helping people of color realize that they can go to college, get out of the Bronx, and have a career means a lot him. “I want to make a lasting impact on this world, and this would be a great place to start,” he said. “It’s been such a blessing to give back to these guys.”

Santana will be heading to Columbia University in the fall to begin a master’s program in mechanical engineering.

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