In fifth grade, high school is still a few years away and college is one of the last things on a student’s mind. But for Aunnakalia Boyce ’14 and Lidia Zayas ’15, it’s precisely when their journey to college began—and they have the Boston Red Sox to thank.

The two Suffolk students belong to Red Sox Scholars, a cornerstone program of the MLB franchise’s charitable arm, the Red Sox Foundation. Boyce was accepted into the program’s inaugural class in 2003. Zayas joined a year later. She has vivid memories of the application process.

“I was in an after-school program and someone handed me an application,” Zayas says. “I didn’t even pay attention to the scholarship part of it because I loved the Red Sox. There was an essay, an application, and an interview with a lot of people in a big conference room. They asked me who my favorite player was. I told them Pedro Martinez.”

From the time they enter the program through their college years, Scholars receive mentoring and guidance from Red Sox Foundation staff. They learn about cultivating positive relationships, job readiness and professionalism, and college applications and financial aid.

Scholars also participate in events, including the annual induction ceremony in June at Fenway Park (“I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been on the field,” says Zayas), and receive college scholarships of up to $10,000.

Boyce and Zayas both say the program’s most profound impact comes not from meeting big leaguers, receiving a personalized Sox jersey, or even getting a scholarship. Rather, it’s from finding mentors such as Justin Prettyman BS ’07, assistant director of marketing and development for the Red Sox Foundation.

“Meeting Justin and people like him is my favorite part of this program,” says Boyce. “If I talked to him more I’d say he’s my big brother. He’s a big supporter of my dreams, a great support system to everyone.” 

“I’ll call him and just stop by his office all the time,” says Zayas. “Whether he knows it or not, he’s my mentor.”

Thanks in part to Prettyman’s guidance, Boyce received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Arts and Sciences in May 2014. She has admirable plans for her life after Suffolk.

“I want to work with children in foster care—to make it a better system,” she says. “I think I have a few good ideas on making the system better, more trustworthy. I’m very passionate about it.”

Zayas’ goals are just as clear. She even has a specific title in mind.

“I would love to get into sports—it’s my calling,” she says. “In the long run, I hope it’s baseball operations. If I see [Red Sox president/CEO] Larry Lucchino, I’m going to say ‘Watch out. I’m coming for your spot!’”

The Red Sox Foundation must see her in that role, too—in April 2014, the organization paid for the junior management major to attend MLB’s Diversity Business Seminar in New York City. It was an event attended by representatives from all 30 teams, and Zayas delivered her resume to each one.

One wants to reform a state foster care system that’s in need of repair, the other wants to run one of the most successful organizations in sports. Just more proof that big-league dreams often start at Suffolk University.