Class of 2027: Accomplished, ‘Terrific’ People, With More Pell Grants Than Ever

August 24, 2023 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

Now that the University of Virginia’s Class of 2027 and the school’s new transfer students have a few days of classes behind them, UVA Today would like to introduce you to the group.

Class rankings and extracurriculars have always been the traditional way to tell the story of an entering class. But last year, UVA began asking first-year students a set of new questions to better understand who they are as people.

For example, students were asked if they participated in community service. An astonishing 92% said yes. Did they socialize with someone of another racial or ethnic group? Eighty-one percent said they had. When it came to listening generously to someone with different opinions, an important trait President Jim Ryan urged at Opening Convocation, 80% responded that they have.

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By the Numbers: Class of 2027

3,995

Total of Enrolled First-Year Students

“We are continually inspired by the students who apply to UVA,” Greg Roberts, dean of admission, said. “It’s not just their stellar academic credentials, but it’s their personal qualities and character, and their desire to make a positive impact in the lives of others, that stood out to us this year. They live complex lives and have been shaped by their communities and those around them. We have no doubt they will make a difference on Grounds over the next four years.”

More Students Than Ever Qualified for Pell Grants

The University has made strides in its goal to enroll more students who are eligible to receive Pell Grants, federal assistance given to undergraduate students with exceptional financial needs.

This year, 16.4% of the entering class qualified for Pell Grants, compared to 11% two years ago. This year, 28.6% of the University’s nearly 800 new transfer students qualified for the help. Of those students, 423 transferred to UVA from a Virginia community college.

By the Numbers: Class of 2027

65.6%

Virginians

17.5%

First Generation Students

“These terrific students earned admission on the strength of their achievements, potential and capacity to contribute to the University, as did all our other new students,” Stephen Farmer, UVA’s vice provost for enrollment, said, “and we feel grateful that they chose to join us.”

Fun Facts

The nearly 4,000-member Class of 2027 ranges in age from 15 to 57 and 17.5% are first-generation students. They come from more areas of Virginia than ever, 95 countries, and nine different Native nations, including the Monacan Indian Nation and the Patawomeck Indian Tribe. The class also features 23 sets of twins.

By the Numbers: Class of 2027

92%

Participated in Community Service

73%

Tutored Siblings, Friends or Classmates

“This class is diverse by every measure - economically, racially, geographically, and in terms of their interests, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas,” Roberts said. “Our goal every year is to bring in students who are different from one another, and who will enjoy talking about important, complex issues, even when they disagree. These conversations take place in classrooms, in research labs and in resident halls. It’s one of the things that makes UVA so special.”

Let’s Meet Some Students

Transfer Student Luke Figueroa

Figueroa’s fascination with space came early, sometime between the ages of 7 and 10. Born in Florida, he witnessed space shuttle launches up close because his uncle, Kevin Carmack, worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  “We were able to park where the press was, which was only two or three miles out from the launch pad,” he said. “What really stuck with me was, when the ignition started, the power that you feel is crazy. Everything around you is shaking and you see this multi-ton structure launch into space and you can feel it the entire way up, the actual shockwaves of the thrusters.”

Luke Figueroa Portrait

Luke Figueroa attended three different high schools, an experience that damaged his social life and GPA. He was determined to get back on track academically and earned excellent grades at Piedmont Virginia Community College. He won a two-year scholarship that will cover his tuition and fees at UVA. (Contributed photo)

Those moments have stayed with Figueroa through several moves, starting when he was 16. That’s when his mother moved the family to Virginia. He attended three different high schools and had to hit restart every time. It was tough making friends because all the kids in those schools already had their people, he said. And Figueroa’s once-excellent GPA took a hard hit. He’d been thriving in Florida, but now in Virginia, he was floundering.

After high school he took a gap year. “I thought, ‘Maybe school isn’t for me,’” he said. He worked a few minimum-wage jobs and said to himself, “This is not fun.” The work was not flexing Figueroa’s mental muscle, so he decided to make a change: enroll at Piedmont Virginia Community College, study engineering, recapture his love of rockets and space, and later, transfer to UVA.

For the next two years, Figueroa drove 40 miles each way from Staunton to PVCC in Charlottesville. He notched a perfect attendance record and earned a nearly 4.0 GPA. He was preparing to take out loans to pay his way through UVA when, in the span of one week, he got two bits of incredible news: He’d been accepted into NASA’s National Transonic Facility Research summer internship, and he’d been named a UVA Piedmont Scholar, meaning his tuition and fees would be covered for the next two years.

“I think I was the luckiest man in the universe,” he said. “It was a lifesaver getting that scholarship. I don’t know what I would have done. It would have been rough.”

By the Numbers: Class of 2027

80%

Listened Generously to Someone Whose Opinions Differed From Their Own

Figueroa plans to continue his Staunton-to-Charlottesville commute this semester and, if the opportunity presents itself, perhaps move in with some friends in the spring. He’s hoping to earn a degree in aerospace engineering in two years.

Class of 2027 Member Rheis Granger

She was 13 months old when her mother noticed something concerning. The Granger family had just moved from Durham, North Carolina, to Williamsburg and were having some noisy work done on their new house.

Rheis Granger

Rheis Granger’s profound hearing loss never held her back. She was senior class president, yearbook editor and a varsity field hockey athlete at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg. (Contributed photo)

“My mom put me down for a nap and they were jackhammering outside the house, and I did not cry like a normal baby,” Granger said. “I didn’t react in any way, so my mom definitely knew something was wrong that needed to be checked out.”

“I was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears,” she recounted. With the help of a doctor, the family decided to have Granger fitted with cochlear implants when she was 2.

When the implants were turned on for the first time, Granger’s parents were overjoyed because there was no guarantee they would work. “They have always told me that they could see something pop up like in my eyes. They could tell something was different, that I could clearly hear something.”

Granger updates her implants about every five years to keep pace with technological advances. The hearing aids clip onto magnets under the skin just behind her ear, and doctors recommend taking them off at bedtime to give her skin a break.

Even with the implants, the pandemic presented some unforeseen challenges for Granger. Because she is not fluent in American Sign Language, she also relies on lip reading to communicate. “When masks became a thing, I obviously couldn’t read lips anymore,” she said. “And then sometimes it would mask people’s voices.”

When students returned to classrooms, Granger sat at the front and asked her mask-wearing teachers not to turn their backs to her when talking. “I would have to ask people to speak up,” she said. “Sometimes I would run into people who had clear masks, and that was very helpful.”

By the Numbers: Class of 2027

70%

Contributed to Causes They Believe in

68%

Changed Their Minds About Important Issues

Now at UVA, Granger is enrolled in the School of Education and Human Development’s competitive kinesiology program. She said an adviser told her more than 1,000 apply to the program annually, and “they can only pick 50 to 60 people.”

In addition to her studies, Granger said she’s looking forward to “the sporting events and meeting people from all over and having new friends.”

Class of 2027 Member Zane Johnson

Every year, there is a very special event in the Johnson household in Southwest Virginia. It’s called “Zane’s Day.” Johnson, his parents, great aunt and grandmother gather each Aug. 15 to celebrate the day Juan Antonio Garcia Batz of San Antonio Suchitepéquez, Guatemala, became Zane Johnson.

Zane Johnson Portrait

Zane Johnson’s parents adopted him from Guatemala when he was 7 months old. The go-getter was class president all four years of high school, an Eagle Scout and won several academic awards. (Contributed photo)

Johnson’s parents, Wilburn and Lisa, adopted Zane from a foster family in Guatemala City when he was 7 months old and raised him in their Lebanon home. When reading his resume, there is no doubt the younger Johnson has thrived since moving to Virginia. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class at Honaker High School. He was class president all four years. His academic awards are almost too many to count. As a senior, he won academic awards in anatomy, calculus, honors government, marketing and Spanish IV.

Johnson talks with the Southern lilt common to Southwest Virginia, and his humble nature comes through the moment you start speaking with him.

Ride Like A Cavalier, UVA License Plates Are Available from the Virginia DMV
Ride Like A Cavalier, UVA License Plates Are Available from the Virginia DMV

“I know that I’m very fortunate to live in the United States of America and to have the educational opportunity to attend the University of Virginia,” he said. “That makes me inspired to do my best, because I know that this opportunity has been given to me by God and my parents.”

During the pandemic, Johnson began to focus on healthy eating. His soccer season had been canceled, so he increased his workouts to be in shape for the coming season. With not much else to do, those two things became something of an obsession, and Johnson developed an eating disorder he has since overcome.

By the Numbers: Class of 2027

51%

Held Paying Jobs During the School Year

77%

Want to Connect With Students From Different Walks of Life

In his application to become a kinesiology major, he wrote about how his experience inspired him to pursue becoming a dietitian. “I have recovered and gained a new perspective on food, one which I would like to share with others,” he wrote. “I want to educate people on the importance of good nutrition, how it can enhance their quality of life, and how to enjoy food and fuel themselves properly.”

Outside of academics, Johnson is thinking about joining intramural teams in soccer, tennis and volleyball. He and his family celebrated Zane’s Day this month as they have since 2005, just days before his move to UVA. Johnson said his family is very tight-knit and saying goodbye was hard.

Fall break will be here before you know it.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications