New Central High School graduate Sandra Tougnon - who graduated summa cum laude in June - has an exciting year ahead as she begins her first year of studies at Washington University in St. Louis as an Ervin B Scholar. Her four-year, full ride scholarship honors the school’s first African American dean, John B. Ervin. 3,000 incoming students applied, and Sandra was one of only 61 selected to receive the scholarship. She also received several other full-ride college scholarship offers, including Vanderbilt University and the University of Southern California.
Clearly Sandra is a stand-out student and a very talented leader. She says she’s often asked why she’s so driven to achieve. “My parents and family immigrated to the United States from Togo in West Africa so my siblings and I would have more opportunities,” she says. “Living in America is huge for my family, so I have to make the most of it!”
As a school leader, Sandra co-founded the Black Student Union at Central and created the Central Segregated campaign to encourage more students of color to enroll in advanced courses. Along with other Central students, she hosted a public forum with staff, students, board of education members and state legislators to address the wide disparities between student participation in advanced and regular courses.
Sandra also credits her success in having so many strong college offers to the support she received from our Achieve career and college readiness coordinator Zoey Haines. Zoey directs Central’s career and college readiness center, where she provides a supportive landing space for students and families to connect with one-on-one career and postsecondary guidance, resources, and opportunities in their path to self-discovery.
“Zoey posted some great college opportunities and I reached out to her,” says Sandra. “I told her what I wanted to do after high school, and she told me what I could do at that moment to make it happen. As a former college admissions counselor, Zoey had all the answers!”
Zoey describes Sandra as a strong self-advocate, poised and confident, and unafraid to tackle issues and hurdles that come her way. “Throughout the college application process she was on top of everything and submitted everything on time. Many students are overwhelmed by the process of deciding what they want to do in life and how to get there,” she says. “But Sandra has always taken advantage of every opportunity that comes her way.”
Sandra also encouraged other Central students to connect with the great resources in the career and college readiness center, and even interviewed Zoey for a video on how students could better access this support. “These opportunities are essential to learning about yourself, getting ahead of the game, and understanding what you’re passionate about. It was so impactful to learn what I would and wouldn’t want to do. That’s part of life, so why not start early! It was so meaningful to play a role in making sure students of color have the same opportunities as white students,” she says.
Before heading to St. Louis in late August, Sandra is completing a summer internship as an office coordinator for the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. “I like bringing professionals together for the purpose of building a better community,” she says.
Sandra loves everything about business management, and when asked where she sees herself in 10 years, she confidently replies, “I will have started my own company or be the CEO!”
Our best wishes for your future, Sandra. There’s no doubt that it will be bright!