Isabella de Simone
When she came to NYU Tandon in 2015 to complete a pre-college program for high school students, Isabella DeSimone fell in love. Like many teenagers, Isabella was imagining where she might want to go to college. Spending the summer at NYU Tandon made the answer clear. But when it came time to apply to her dream school, Isabella’s hopes were tempered by economic realities. “For someone whose family doesn’t have a large income and is a different socioeconomic status than a lot of people who go here, going to college wasn’t like ‘Oh this is my dream school!’ It was more like ‘Who’s going to give me more money?’” she says. “NYU was my first choice but I knew that if they didn’t give me enough [financial aid], I couldn’t go.”
Isabella, who grew up in Queens, is no stranger to thinking about financial constraints, but she credits much of her character to her family’s emphasis on doing more with less. “My mother is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic,” Isabella explains. “She instilled certain values in us — frugality, education, and always being better than what you were.”
Those values have shaped Isabella, so much so that when it came time to write her common application essay, she chose to write about how living with modest means had prepared her for college and brought her family closer together. Her high school counselor took notice of her essay and alerted Isabella to the New York Times’ annual college application essay contest. Isabella submitted her essay and, a few months later, she learned that she had won. Her essay, along with several others, was featured in the New York Times on May 13, 2016. “It was such a great experience,” Isabella says.
Her mother’s emphasis on education has also had a big impact on Isabella. Always a good student, Isabella started prep school in 7th grade and went on to boarding school in Connecticut — all with full scholarship support. “For most of my life, school has been one of my favorite outlets. I like to learn,” Isabella says.
While she has a deep love for the humanities, by the time she was ready to choose a college, Isabella had decided to pursue a degree in STEM based on her interest in innovation, self-reliance, and entrepreneurship. “I like being able to start your own company and be a leader and do your own things,” she explains. “I realized that in engineering, you can make your own product too; you don’t have to have other people do it for you.”
Having had such a great experience at Tandon the summer before her senior year, Isabella was thrilled when she got accepted to NYU on early decision. But the financial aid package offered wasn’t quite enough to match her offer from another university: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. Disappointed, Isabella accepted that NYU was not a possibility for her and was preparing to enroll at RPI when she and her family decided to make one last effort to find additional financial support at NYU Tandon. Seeing Isabella’s stellar academic record, Director of Enrollment Elizabeth Ensweiler stepped in. “Elizabeth worked on my behalf to find a scholarship that could meet my needs. That’s when the Berkley Scholarship came up,” recalls Isabella.
Through a generous gift from NYU Trustee William Berkley, the Berkley Family Scholarship was established in 2016 to support Tandon students with academic merit and financial need. Isabella was a perfect candidate to be one of eight inaugural Berkley Scholars, and she was thrilled at the opportunity. “I’d like to thank [Mr. Berkley] for being philanthropic in a way that’s not just giving his money blindly,” she says. “He gets to see what an effect it has on someone’s life — someone who is trying to make something of herself and her family’s future.”