First-generation college student Santiago Tellez received an incredible opportunity when he was named a North Carolina Textile Foundation Centennial Scholar in 2014: the ability to pursue higher education at NC State, a dream that was likely out of reach without the financial support provided by the Joseph W. Lineberger Centennial Scholarship.

“If I did not have the Centennial Scholarship, I can honestly admit that I am not sure where I would be in regards to post high school education,” he said.

In response to receiving the award, the Erwin, N.C., native has found a myriad of ways to pay it forward, inspired along the way by a desire to change lives.

“I have always had a passion for science and helping others, which is why I knew I wanted a career in healthcare from an early age. After my undergraduate studies, I want to continue my education in dental school. It was at my first shadowing experience where I witnessed the lives of others being changed at an instant and it was this that most attracted me to dentistry,” he said.

Tellez is a junior in the Wilson College of Textiles studying Polymer and Color Chemistry with a concentration in Medical Sciences, an ideal and distinctive degree path for those interested in entering dental and medical school.

When he’s not hitting the books or working as a Student Page in the Dean’s Office, he’s actively involved with organizations that he’s passionate about including the Pre-Dental Club and the Pre-Dental Honor Society. Through these groups he not only makes friends and learns more about dentistry, but he has opportunities to give back.

“I spend afternoons volunteering at Wake Smiles, a local dental clinic that serves underrepresented groups and residents of Wake County” said Tellez who also volunteers with NC Missions of Mercy Clinic, an outreach of the North Carolina Dental Society.

This past summer he experienced one of the most significant engagement opportunities to date: he was part of the week-long Juntos Summer Academy which takes place on NC State’s campus. This program focuses on the development of Hispanic high school students, introducing them to college life and providing information to help them successfully continue their education.

“I chose to be a part of this program because I felt passionate about its purpose and mission, but also because I felt a relation to the participants of this program since I had once walked in their shoes,” he said. “I wanted to share my own experiences being a first-generation college student as well as an immigrant from Mexico in the hopes of inspiring others in similar situations.”

Tellez learned a great deal by leading his own group of students in workshops and activities.

“It made me realize that even to this day, there are many young individuals who are in difficult situations with little to no support when it comes to continuing higher education,” he said. “I was also able to expand my knowledge of various Latino cultures and witness their own perspectives. Most impactful was the opportunity to pass along some of my own skills and insight to younger generations.”

In addition to his work with high school students and community groups, Tellez also mentors younger Centennials and helps behind the scenes at various Wilson College of Textiles events including Open House.

“With all of the help and support that I receive as a Wilson College of Textiles Centennial I am very passionate about giving back to the college in as many ways possible,” he said.

Consider making a gift to support future Centennial Scholars.