OCA senior gets full ride to Dartmouth

OCA senior Andrea Soto poses for a photo in the library at Odessa College. No. 3 in her class, Soto is heading to Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., through the QuestBridge College Match Program. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

When she visited Dartmouth College after being accepted, Andrea Soto felt like she was home.

The Odessa Collegiate Academy senior will have a full scholarship to the Hanover, N.H., institution through the QuestBridge College Match program.

She will also earn an associate degree in biology from Odessa College. Graduation is May 10 and 11 at the Ector County Coliseum. Commencement on May 10 is at 6 p.m. and May 11 it is at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“My mom and I were doing some research on how I was going to be able to afford college and we found this QuestBridge program. I also got recommended by a previous senior from last year. I applied, they accepted me as a QuestBridge scholar. They were able to give me a lot of resources to be able to apply to more colleges and know that this was a possibility,” Soto said.

She was beyond thrilled when she found out she was accepted to Dartmouth.

“I was shaking,” Soto said. “I was so excited because these were like the last schools that had to get back to me and I really wanted this school to accept me, especially because of how much I felt like it would fit me. Then they did and I think I screamed. I was so happy. It was great. I was so excited,” Soto said.

She added that she jokes that the school is perfect for her because its color is green and green is her favorite color. She even has green in her hair.

Looking back, she never thought she would be heading somewhere like Dartmouth. She plans to double major in neuroscience and music.

Soto added that her major has been switching around a little bit, but her objective is the same.

“My end goal is to be a doctor, hopefully a neonatologist,” she said.

Once she went there it felt like home and she also loves that it’s small.

One of the reasons she chose OCA is that it was like a small community so you can get to know your teachers and classmates.

“Then choosing Dartmouth was the same. It’s a smaller school. There’s a very strong undergrad focus, so the teachers are very focused on the undergraduate students and you can (create) more relationships with your professors and you don’t have that many classmates to be competing against. You can focus more on collaborating with them. I love it so much. It’s great,” Soto said.

The scenery and climate are also very different from Odessa. She bought a sweater and a baseball hat at Dartmouth and she always wears the sweater.

Dartmouth’s medical school is the Geisel School of Medicine named for Audrey and Theodor Geisel. Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, went to college at Dartmouth.

Soto is from Caracas, Venezuela, but has been in Ector County ISD since third grade.

“Stuff over there got pretty bad, politically and safety-wise, so my mom changed her career because she was a lawyer over there and she changed her career to be a teacher here in ECISD. That’s how we ended up coming here. … Right now she’s in a special a bilingual specialist, so she’s downtown,” Soto said.

Soto has been at OCA for four years and said graduating is bittersweet.

“I love it here. I feel like my senior year was really very good. It ended up being a good wrap-up. I got closer with a lot of people. My mental health has been getting better here during my senior year. Now that it’s all coming to an end I’m like, I’m going to miss it, but I’m also ready for the next step. I’m ready to see where college is going to take me,” Soto said.

She said she’s always been interested in helping others.

“By doing that and the fact that I love science and I love learning abut the biology and the human body. I started volunteering at the hospital this last summer at (Medical Center Hospital). … It opened my eyes to exactly what I wanted to do medically, especially when I volunteered in the NICU. It helped me realize that’s what I want,” Soto said.

She wanted to pursue something in pediatrics or women’s health, but is leaning more toward pediatrics.

Taking college classes in high school and working taught her how to manage everything.

“It taught me how to balance everything all at once. I feel like that’s a good skill to know and also the classes are fun. They’re tough and challenging, but they’re fun. I’m just a big nerd. I love classes. I love being at school. It’s great, which I think matches considering I’m going to be in school for like 10 more years,” Soto said.

Along with all the other things she does, Soto tutors students in math, science and English, volunteers with the bilingual summer school and this past year she taught students how to play piano at summer school.

“I love playing piano. I play the viola. I sing and I’m learning the guitar. I’m getting there. My hands are just not big enough for the frets. … I’ve been playing piano since I was 4, so it’s a really big part of who I am,” Soto said.

OCA Principal James Ramage said Soto is absolutely amazing and is one of the brightest students he’s seen in his 30-year career.

She is one of 98 seniors set to graduate May 17 at the OC Sports Center.

Ramage said Soto is well prepared academically, socially and maturity wise to go on to an Ivy League school.

“She has the adult skills to be successful there and we’re extremely proud of her,” he said.

Once they learned about her 1590 on the SATs, they knew top schools would be looking at Soto. She even wanted to take it again to see if she could get a perfect 1600.

Ramage added that she is definitely a student leader and helped create the SAT club with one of the teachers.

“We definitely will keep in touch with her. She’s going to have an amazing life and career and we’re just so very proud of her,” Ramage said.