When Ella Escobar’s ’27 suitemates move into their freshman residence hall in mid-August, she’ll be hundreds of miles away trying to calm her nerves.
Her sheets will already be on her bed, her walls already decorated. But Escobar will be on the back of her horse, competing for Team USA at the highest level of equestrian dressage for her age group, the Federation Equestre Internationale North American Youth Championships, also known as the Junior Olympics.
Escobar, from Moseley, Virginia, is a U.S. Dressage Federation Bronze Medalist and part of the incoming Class of 2027. She’s a volunteer with Journey of Hope 4 Autism, an equine non-profit, and is a youth ambassador for the International Rescue Horse Registry. Her parents met on the Longwood riding team, which, she said, means she was basically born into riding. Her first time on a horse was at three-months-old. Last year, she set a goal of making the USA team and she succeeded this year on her first attempt.
Ever since I stepped on campus, I felt at home. When I took my first tour, everybody was so inviting and it felt like a family.Ella Escobar’s ’27 Tweet This
“The thing I am most excited about in beginning college life is meeting so many new people,” said Escobar, who is majoring in kinesiology and aspires to become a physical therapist. “Ever since I stepped on campus, I felt at home. When I took my first tour, everybody was so inviting and it felt like a family.”
Next month Escobar will arrive on campus as part of an incoming class that is among the most talented, academically gifted and diverse in university history. Including transfers, Longwood will welcome nearly 1,000 new students to campus this fall.
The incoming freshman class paints an impressive picture academically, with 61 percent having a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The class includes at least five high school valedictorians, and more than 100 students were in the top 10 percent of their high school’s graduating class. Twenty-eight percent of the students identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and 5 percent are coming to Longwood from out of state.
“The Class of 2027 is an extraordinary group of individuals who bring a diverse range of experiences, perspectives and talents to Longwood,” said Dean of Admissions Jason “Ferg” Ferguson. “Each student carries within them the potential to transform their communities and leave an indelible mark on the world. I know they are bound for great things.”
Members of the class have been leaders in their high schools and respective hometowns, and are passionate about improving their communities.
What excites me the most about starting college is the prospect of meeting new people and discovering numerous opportunities that will contribute to my personal and professional growth.Emmely Soto Cruz ’27 Tweet This
One of them is Emmely Soto Cruz ’27, a graduate of Richmond’s Community High School, where she was president of the Environmental Club, and a member of the Mindfulness Club, the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council and the Honor Council. She is an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor for children in her community and enjoys reading, writing, painting and embroidery.
Soto Cruz has been an advocate within Richmond Public Schools (RPS) for improving the ESL program. She has worked with RPS and the Richmond chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to make the program better and more supportive for non-English native language students.
“I have been advocating for years, and now we might be getting results,” Soto Cruz said. “I’m also thinking of starting a youth program for middle schoolers to teach them that it’s OK to speak up when it’s needed and how to advocate for themselves.”
Originally from Santa Clarita, La Union in El Salvador, Soto Cruz has been in the United States for six years. She is majoring in criminology and criminal justice and plans to pursue a career in criminology, a field she said she is passionate about.
“What excites me the most about starting college is the prospect of meeting new people and discovering numerous opportunities that will contribute to my personal and professional growth,” Soto Cruz said. “I chose Longwood because the first time I went for a tour I absolutely loved the campus.”
All of my family members work in the health care field, so it has been instilled in me to help people no matter their background.Junior Betts ’27 Tweet This
Junior Betts ’27, a Danville native who is planning to major in biology with a pre-med concentration, as well as criminology and criminal justice, will arrive in Farmville next month with big career plans. He eventually plans to go to medical school and also get a Ph.D.
“All of my family members work in the health care field, so it has been instilled in me to help people no matter their background,” he said. “I also love research because it teaches me things about different cultural traditions that aren’t necessarily related within American culture, but it can be applied into medical practice.”
One thing that Betts has researched is his heritage, which includes Black, Asian and Indigenous American ancestors. “I am finding more and more about my culture, and I find it all the more beautiful the more I learn about it.”
Betts is a Longwood LIFESTEM scholar and will be a member of Longwood’s new track and field team next spring. He said he can’t wait to begin preparing for his career.
“I want to get to know professors and tell them my future plans so that they can work with me to help achieve them,” Betts said.
I loved the campus and knew it was the place I wanted to go when I got there.Michelle Bracken ’27 Tweet This
Michelle Bracken ’27 is not sure about her future career plans, which is why she chose the exploratory studies major as a way to take a variety of classes before she decides which academic major to pursue. The Gloucester, Virginia, native was sold on Longwood the moment she stepped onto campus.
“I loved the campus and knew it was the place I wanted to go when I got there,” said Bracken, who knows how to sail and is spending her summer working as a lifeguard. One thing she will be bringing with her this fall are her Squishmellows, plush toys that are especially, well, squishy.
I chose Longwood because of the learning environment and the size of the campus fit me better than other colleges.Michael Abouassi ’27 Tweet This
Michael Abouassi ’27, a criminology and criminal justice major from Glen Allen, said he’s looking forward to meeting new people. His career goal is to go to law school and become a lawyer. This summer he spent a week shadowing a defense attorney to learn about the job.
“I chose Longwood because of the learning environment and the size of the campus fit me better than other colleges,” said Abouassi, who also said he was attracted by the Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars.
Abouassi, Betts, Cruz and Escobar are among the 144 incoming honors college students who will arrive on campus a week early for a retreat.
Dr. Chris Kukk, the Wilma Register Sharp and Marc Boyd Sharp Dean of the Honors College, said the CHC received even more applications than last year’s record-setting class, which meant they were able to be even more selective in the application review process. Kukk, whose son, Quinn Kukk ’27, is an incoming freshman, said this is one of the most intellectually talented classes ever admitted to the honors college, with over 15 percent ranked in the top 10 of their high school class.
“This year’s freshman class is made up of members who have been part of NASA programs at the Langley Research Center, Eagle Scouts and a Junior Olympian,” Kukk said. “This class has it all when it comes to diversity of experiences and intellectual curiosity.”
It’s been a dream of mine since I was 4 to help others as much as I can. Through coaching gymnastics, I learned that teaching is one of those ways I can help at an early age.Abby Angell ’27 Tweet This
Abby Angell ’27, another incoming CHC member from Franklin County, Virginia, competes in travel gymnastics competitions and is a six-time state champion gymnast. This summer she is coaching gymnastics and spending time with her family. She is majoring in secondary mathematics education.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was 4 to help others as much as I can,” she said. “Through coaching gymnastics, I learned that teaching is one of those ways I can help at an early age.”
She will be bringing a sentimental reminder of home with her to campus next month—a pillow made from a sweatshirt that belonged to her late grandfather. “He was always encouraging me to work harder, so having a part of him with me in college is going to help me get through,” she said.