Meet Bill De La Rosa

“I would not be where I am now if it weren’t for STEP.”
— STEP Alum, Bowdoin College Graduate

When Bill was 15, his mother was denied a green card and told she could not re-enter the U.S. for 10 years, leaving Bill and his three siblings without their mother, and their ailing 82-year-old father without his wife. Bill immediately stepped up to champion his mother’s case. He contacted lawyers, policy makers, and anyone he thought could help.  He and his siblings, as well as his father, were all U.S. citizens – surely there was something that could be done. When his older brother entered the U.S. Marine Corps, it was up to Bill to take care of his younger siblings and elderly father. Even with all these responsibilities, Bill made school a priority. He remembered as a child, accompanying his mother as she cleaned motel rooms, and listening to her tell him that this would be his fate if he didn’t work hard in school. He was determined to get an education and succeed.

In his sophomore year, Bill realized “that STEP would open doors. I knew that I needed guidance in applying to colleges, since my parents didn’t go to college and couldn’t give me advice. Plus, I knew the leadership component with NOLS would help me in the long term.”

Bill was surprised by some of the lessons from his STEP expedition. “Being the Leader of the Day certainly built my confidence, but another takeaway I had from Alaska was a greater understanding of our environment and how we should take care of it. Seeing melting glaciers and wildlife made me much more environmentally conscientious.” Bill was also impacted by the isolation of the wilderness. “Don’t get me wrong, I made great friends with STEP. But being out there in the wilderness, isolated from society, you feel like a small dot in a big place. I think that experience was very helpful once I got to college. In college sometimes you feel like the whole world is on your shoulders. Being able to compose and maintain yourself in those moments is key. I learned how to do that in STEP.”

Bill was the Valedictorian of his high school class in 2012 and earned a full ride to Bowdoin College as a Gates Millennium Scholar. He became a Truman Scholar, a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, and a Michael and Susan Dell Scholar. In 2016, he was recognized by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund as their male “National Hispanic Scholar of the Year”.

But all those successes didn’t come easily. “There were moments when I felt like I was struggling, especially my sophomore year of college. I was taking a full load of difficult classes and had a major family crisis back home. I sought counseling services to help me cope. I decided to do that because STEP taught me to take initiative in getting help when you need it. Being the Leader of the Day in Alaska forced me to take initiative and make important calls.”

Bill’s leadership experience in Alaska also motivated him to develop his own expedition for Bowdoin College students – an Alternative Spring Break to the US-Mexico border in Arizona. “I was Leader of the Day all over again, but on an expedition in the Sonoran Desert. We were working with NGOs and learning about the politics of immigration. Students took a lot from it, especially because they were so far removed from it in Maine.”

Now, Bill has been admitted to the University of Oxford’s Master’s program in Migration Studies.  He has also been recognized as a Marshall Scholar and a Rhodes Scholarship Finalist. He remembers when he first attended the STEP presentation, “I thought I didn’t stand a chance in applying and getting accepted.” Now reflecting back on interviewing with two of the most prestigious fellowships in the world, Bill recalls that he was nervous but “composed” just like he learned in the isolated wilderness of Alaska.