Voices of Making Waves graphic overlay with photo of Lizbeth holding Harvard sign
Lizbeth celebrating her decision to attend Harvard at Making Waves Academy’s ‘Decision Day’ event on campus
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Making Waves and Breaking Barriers: Making Waves Academy Student Plans to Attend Harvard

by Bonnie Shea

Making Waves Education Foundation » Stories » Making Waves and Breaking Barriers: Making Waves Academy Student Plans to Attend Harvard

Voices of Making Waves: Meet Lizbeth

A climate activist, student body president, Wave-Maker, and graduating senior at Making Waves Academy, Lizbeth is planning to attend Harvard University this coming fall 2022 to study environmental science and engineering.

Lizbeth on campus holding Harvard sign

She will be a first-generation college student and the first Making Waves Academy student to go to Harvard, an institution that accepted only 3.19% of applicants this year – the lowest percentage yet due to a record high number of applications. 

This May, Lizbeth joined fellow Making Waves Academy seniors – known as the ‘19th Wave’ – at a decision day event during which each graduating student announced their future plans to the school community.

“I am most excited about getting out of my comfort zone and being able to experience something different,” Lizbeth said about her decision to attend Harvard for college.

“I am hopeful that everything the 19th Wave and I do after graduation is going to change the world for the better.”

“My family and my community have made me feel really proud about gaining admission to this school and more confident in making this decision,” she said.

Making waves and breaking barriers

In describing why she chose Harvard, Lizbeth shared: “I know that being able to attend a university like Harvard is an opportunity that not many in my community have had and that not many other people who look like and share the same experiences as me have had.”

“I chose this school because I feel that it’s important that I continue to break barriers as a low-income woman of color at a PWI [Predominately White Institution],” she continued.

Two organizations in particular Lizbeth noted supported her path to Harvard are SMASH Academy – which she said gave her increased confidence to break barriers as a woman in STEM and resources to help with the admissions process, and Youth Vs Apocalypse – which helped guide her activism throughout high school. 

“I feel like a big part of me reaching this milestone has been the confidence that I have gained to speak my mind and my truth,” she shared.

“While I know that I’m going to have to seek resources to support me as a first-generation student in a space like this, I want to show other BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] kids that we do belong in these spaces.”

Another support system Lizbeth will have access to is Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, which provides the opportunity for Making Waves Academy and other Bay Area high school graduates to receive coaching and scholarships that support students on their path to college graduation.

Bringing leadership experiences to Harvard

After becoming involved with the Associated Student Board during her first year of high school, Lizbeth now serves as the student body president.

“Our leadership on campus has expanded over the past few years as we’ve been an instrumental voice for the student body,” she shared, noting this has included presenting at school board meetings and working on student concerns with school leadership.

“Lizbeth is an active leader on campus,” said Making Waves Academy CEO Alton B. Nelson, Jr., who attended Harvard for graduate school. “She is thoughtful, determined, and focused on her goals. Her work in the MWA community and greater community speaks for itself and contributed to why she is such an appealing student to Harvard University given the contributions she will make to enrich that school community. We are proud of her well-earned success.”

Lizbeth’s drive to study environmental science and engineering at Harvard stems from her passion for climate justice.

“Being involved in climate justice organizing has challenged my thinking about the systems that have allowed for climate destruction to reach where it’s at, and for low-income, BIPOC communities to be at the forefront –  communities like mine,” she said.

Focusing on climate action, fossil fuel divestment, and education around environmental racism, Lizbeth shared: “I’ve led in a coalition of young people across California demanding that Governor Newsom stops rolling out new fossil fuel permits, drops all existing oil and gas production through a just transition, and rolls out 3,200 feet health and safety zones.”

“I’ve also done some work in efforts of getting CalSTRS divest over $10 billion from fossil fuels, and I even helped get a resolution passed with the Making Waves Academy school board,” she added.

Like the phrases embedded in Making Waves Academy’s Wave-Maker Affirmation, Lizbeth is committed to being an agent of change and recycling her success.

“Being involved in these [leadership experiences] has meant taking ownership of my future and urging my generation to do the same. I plan on continuing this work in college and coming back to my community after college to do the same,” she shared.

This Voices of Making Waves storytelling series spotlights the voices and journeys of the students, alumni, teachers, coaches, and more members of our Making Waves Foundation and Making Waves Academy communities — and highlights our work in creating educational opportunities that change lives.


Making Waves Academy is a public charter school committed to rigorously and holistically preparing students in grades 5-12 from Richmond, California, and the surrounding areas for college, career, and life success. The school’s enrollment stands at more than 1,100 students and 100% of its graduates meet the “A-G” requirements for admission to University of California and California State University campuses.