Faces of 501: Leo Espinoza

Leobardo Espinoza Jr. is the college and career advocate at Topeka High School, but it was just a few short years ago that he roamed the halls as a student. After graduating high school in 2013, he went to Yale University and graduated in 2017. In addition to helping students in the district, he recently had two entries into Topeka’s Top Tank entrepreneur competition, both advancing to the top 20. One idea even moved on to the top 10. The overall winner of $100,000 will be announced on February 17.

“I submitted two ideas for the completion, one I developed with friends, Lucas Ryan and Ashley Klemme, for Chatterhouse Coffee Shop, and one idea, Boca Bites that I had been working with my mom, Martha Espinoza for a while. The Chatterhouse idea advanced to the Top Ten. When I saw the opportunity I knew I couldn't let it pass. Before finalizing our ideas, I talked to various mentors to bounce ideas off of them and to hear their thoughts on what I had thus far.”

“It’s been a fun experience to get to sit around with my friends over coffee and imagine what kind of business we'd like to see downtown and how it would be beneficial to our community. It's fun to think in abstract terms, and then figure out the details of how we can make an abstract vision a real business experience for a consumer in Topeka. The initial application actually wasn't too lengthy. We knew competition would be tough since applicants from around the region were allowed to enter, but I'm excited my two entries made the top 20.”

  “I’m a product of Topeka Public Schools (TPS), I attended both Robinson Middle School and Topeka High School. I've been very grateful for the many opportunities my school district has afforded me, beginning with my selection as part of the first eighth grade AVID class in the district, all the way to my current employment as the college and career advocate at Topeka High. During the course of my now many years with the district, I've been able to meet truly life-changing mentors, mentors who have challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before. They've pushed me to truly be the best I can be, and for that I'll always be grateful. That's partly why I came back to work at TPS, because I'm hoping to pay forward what those mentors did and continue to do for me. Without them, there's no way I would've ever made it to a place like Yale, where I graduated from in May. They truly changed the course of my life for the better."

“Being an AVID student taught me to never settle, but before learning that, I had to be told that I was settling. I hadn't realized it until Ms. Sonnich, my eighth grade AVID teacher, pointed it out and told me I could so much more than what I was doing. That's when I decided to take all the honors and AP classes I could once I got to Topeka High. AVID taught me to take advantage of opportunities. It ingrained the idea that regardless of where you come from or where you attend, there are resources out there for everyone to take advantage of. It didn't matter that Topeka High wasn't a private school with an abundance of every resource out there. It mattered that no matter where I found myself, I took advantage of every opportunity presented to me and furthermore, that I used the resources I did have, like the internet, to find national competitions to apply to that would give me even more opportunities I couldn't find in Kansas. Opportunities like those included flying me out to a foreign country to learn about community enrichment programs. I continue to use AVID skills to this day.”

“I want students to take advantage of every opportunity. The worst thing that will happen when you ask someone for help is they say, ‘No.’ Rejection isn't as scary as your teenage mind makes it out to be. Reach out to me, if I can help you get to where you want to go after high school. Don't be fearful. The world is great. There's so much out there, but it's up to you to decide what your life will be. The sooner you discover your what you want, the more successful you'll become.”

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