Holyoke Community College student Avery Maltz struggled as a teen with an undiagnosed learning disability and homophobic bullying in school. After taking several years off after graduating high school, Maltz found both a welcoming community and academic success at Holyoke Community College. 

Maltz was recently awarded the Wells Fargo Scholarship from the Point Foundation, the nation’s largest merit scholarship program for LGBTQ students.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Maltz to hear how the scholarship will help them further their passion of building community, amplifying marginalized voices, and using natural sciences to create a more accessible world.   

Hear Maltz talk about working in the HCC Greenhouse in a digital exclusive feature.

This interview originally aired on January 20, 2022.

Read the full transcription:

Tony Dunne, Connecting Point: Avery Maltz struggled as a teen, dealing with an undiagnosed learning disability and enduring homophobic bullying in school.

After graduating high school, Maltz took several years off before finding a welcoming community and academic success at Holyoke Community College and has recently been awarded the Wells Fargo Scholarship from the Point Foundation, which is the nation’s largest merit scholarship program for LGBTQ students.

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Maltz to hear how the scholarship will help them further their passion of building community, amplifying marginalized voices, and using natural sciences towards creating a more accessible world for all.

Avery Maltz, Point Foundation Wells Fargo Scholarship Recipient: My family moved up here when I was 13. We were looking for a more accepting place to be. We had been on Long Island for a couple of years — before that Manhattan, which was really nice.

But I ended up staying after high school because I really liked the community and it was an easy place to live.

Zydalis Bauer: And I know that after high school you didn’t pursue higher education right away. You were dealing with an undiagnosed learning disability. And unfortunately, you also dealt with some homophobic bullying in your past school.

So after taking so much time off of school after graduation, you decided to pursue school at Holyoke Community College. What was the driving factor behind that decision?

Avery Maltz: It was really about getting diagnosed with ADHD. And I did try to go to college straight out of high school and it didn’t work out. I didn’t have the support that I needed. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. I didn’t understand the way that the education system worked.

Yeah, I worked retail for about a decade and you know, I got pretty burnt out on that and I just — I was unsatisfied. And even when I liked my job, you know, it wasn’t deeply satisfying to me and I really wanted more. And so I just I knew that I needed help in this way, and so I decided to pursue testing.

And when I got my diagnosis, I — I decided to to try again with school and see what would happen.

Zydalis Bauer: I mean, and it really did pay off because you — congratulations — have been awarded with the Wells Fargo Scholarship from the Point Foundation, which is the nation’s largest merit scholarship for LGBTQ students.

How did it feel to receive this honor and how will this scholarship help you succeed with your goals?

Avery Maltz: It felt amazing! You know, first of all, just — yeah, receiving that scholarship was incredible. I mean, I just I thought about who I was in middle school and how difficult it had been to be bullied for being queer and all the struggles I went through after that. And it just felt like. Everything had come full circle.

And yeah, it’s been an amazing opportunity. The scholarship has been super helpful, but also the programing that Point offers is really amazing. I’ve been able to do, like, one-on-one coaching. They have a lot of training in the transfer process, because I am working on transferring to a four year school right now.

And so, yeah, they — they just have someone for every part of the process to offer support.

Zydalis Bauer: I wanted to bring that up too, because I know that beyond the monetary value of this scholarship, this is a year-long program and it will provide you with workshops, support, and ultimately you will be a part of the Point Foundation’s alumni mentor network, which is amazing.

How important is mentorship and what difference does it make for you?

Avery Maltz: It’s incredibly important. It’s — and it’s made a huge difference for me.

When I think back to when I was younger, when I tried to go to college right out of high school, I…I didn’t have any mentors. I didn’t have any adults in my life to offer that support or guidance. I didn’t even know who my advisor was. And so, I really fell through the cracks because of that.

So it — it’s really important to me to have mentors and to have people who I can go to, and also to step into that role when I can. and to to see, like, who’s struggling around me and who might need some support with something that I’ve already been through.

Zydalis Bauer: And I know that you’re doing that currently at Holyoke Community College. You’ve really taken a leadership role during your time there.

Just a couple of ways that you have: you are a peer tutor, supplemental instructor, and you’re also president and co-founder of the Neurodiversity Club.

What drives you to immerse yourself in all of these different initiatives and why are you so passionate about building community?

Avery Maltz: Well, the easy answer is that it’s really fun! But yeah, aside from that, I mean, I really —  I really do feel strongly, just from my own path in life, you know, that I don’t — I don’t want people to fall through the cracks in the way that I did.

And I don’t have any regrets, you know. I think it’s all part of it. And yeah, spending my 20s doing other things and then coming back to school has been part of my path. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult for everyone.

And I just think that everyone benefits when we all lift each other up. And so, you know, I just think it — it just feels very basic to me, to be looking out in that way and to be connected and to help others connect in.

Zydalis Bauer: Now let’s switch gears a little bit, because I think what you’re studying is fascinating. You have really found your passion for research and STEM, which is science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Something that you’re exploring is understanding how different cultures relate to the natural world that they inhabit.

How does your passion for natural sciences and social justice go hand in hand? Because that’s not something that I think many people think about how relatable they are. So tell me about that.

Avery Maltz: So, I started off as a biology major, and I just really wanted to learn all about the natural world. And, you know, starting out, I was kind of like, “Oh, I hope that I can, you know, contribute to to to helping with some issue that we’re facing today with the climate or, you know, the human impact on nature.”

And as I started to go through my studies, I started to realize that like, everything is connected! And and we can’t ignore the human element of that, and you know, there’s a lot of instances where environmental issues are tied into systemic issues of racism.

And so, yeah, I realized that there’s really no way for me to — to fully be effective in the way that I want to be without looking at things through a lens of social justice.

Zydalis Bauer: What do you see as your goal for the future, beyond Holyoke Community College?

Avery Maltz: I would love to get my bachelor’s and then continue on after that. I really love school, so I would love to be a student for a while. And yeah, that’s that’s pretty much the goal so far, to just keep learning.

Zydalis Bauer: Now what message would you share with others who may have been facing similar struggles you have or struggles in general? What advice would you give them to find a community or an outlet for themselves?

Avery Maltz: Try to reach out to someone. Like, there’s always someone else who’s going to be going through a similar issue or someone who has gone through something similar. And, like, even if not, then like, there’s someone around you who knows someone.

So, that’s what I’ve done in moments where I really have been confused by something or haven’t really known how to overcome a problem. I just kind of figure out, like, who I need to connect with. Who will either connect me to a resource or or just listen or or be able to help me through it

? And that’s something I’ve learned as a student. Like, if I have a question or I’m confused about something, chances are someone else in the class is, too. So I’ll always raise my hand and ask the question!