Kayla Monte (Courtesy photo)

Kayla Monte wants to change the way cities look. 

The 16-year-old, who splits her time between Arizona and Salem as a student of the Chemawa Indian School, has plans to diversify architecture and create affordable housing for reservation communities across the U.S.

But first, she has to get into, and pay for, college. 

Enter Hafeez Lakhani, founder and president of Lakhani Coaching–a Manhattan-based program that readies high school students for the college application process and higher education in general. A program that Lakhani admits is pretty pricey. 

“I was sitting with a friend one day and I said I really want to help students on the other end of the spectrum,” Lakhani said. “Because my coaching program is expensive and only a certain part of the population can take advantage of it, what if I could help other students? My friend said, ‘So do it.’” 

Lakhani founded the Lakhani Scholarship Program in 2018. It awards $10,000 worth of coaching and support to high school students chasing their college dreams. 

The latest cohort is the first to reach out specifically to support Native American students.

“I got an email,” Monte said of learning she had received the scholarship. “I was at home and I told my mom. She started crying.”

Monte won’t be the first in her family to go to college but she is setting her sights a bit higher than other relatives who walked across the stage to earn their college diploma.

A junior this coming year, Monte will be applying to Yale, Harvard and MIT. 

“Kayla is bursting with ambition,” Lakhani said of the teen’s application. “She’s not afraid of a challenge and has remarkable conviction and dedication to her desire to become an architect. She’s overcome so many obstacles and you see that her environment may not afford her as many opportunities.”

Monte is being raised by a single mother and has watched her older brother drop out of classes but go on to earn his GED. 

A member of the Hopi and Najaho nations, Monte said the scholarship is a great opportunity and one she appreciates as a woman of color and enrolled tribal member. 

“I feel like it’s important because not many Native Americans are recognized for their abilities,” she said. “When you look at enrollment in colleges, you barely see a Native American section.”

Monte wants to make a dent in that small number and continue to support her community through architecture. Her plans aren’t quite concrete yet but she said she wants to focus on creating affordable housing for reservation communities. 

“I find structure and artwork for buildings fascinating,” she said. “Buildings can make a whole city feel unique.”

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at caitlynmmay@gmail.com.

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