Ana Rodriguez Vizcaino thinks pipe systems are pretty cool. She hopes to one day possibly work with them.
Ana is an immigrant student who lives in Memphis, which means her residency status is unknown. This also means in-state tuition is not a possibility for her, creating overwhelming odds to her becoming a first-generation college student and realizing her dream to become a civil engineer.
“Students like Ana are called ‘dreamers’ in national circles. Most have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which means they can work but the status doesn’t give any specifics for college tuition,” Jennifer Alejo, Director of College Access for Latino Memphis, said. “That means they’re still charged out-of-state tuition, even though most have lived here since they were four years old.”
DACA students also do not qualify for federal or state financial aid, so entry to private colleges is not made any easier. Rodriguez was disconcerted that no college was announced with her name when she graduated from Wooddale High School in 2014. She had a great GPA, ACT score, and class rank, was accepted to 19 colleges, and received $290,000 in scholarship money, but college still seemed out of reach.
“When I graduated, I didn’t know what I was going to do. Even though I got pretty good scholarships, they still wouldn’t have been enough. College was pretty much unattainable. I was really discouraged,” Rodriguez, 18, said.
Alejo reassured her to give it some time. “I waited and waited,” Rodriguez, of East Memphis said. In June the Wooddale High School graduate was contacted by the admissions office of Christian Brothers University, offering her a Latino Student Success Scholarship. Rodriguez was one of 24 such recipients whose tuition to CBU was covered partially by scholarship and partially by loan, the amounts varying for each student, thanks to a private donor.
“That opened a lot of doors for our students,” Alejo said. Translated, “open doors," Abriendo Puertas was founded by Latino Memphis close to three years ago to help Latino students succeed. The Student Success Scholarships are now a part of the larger program. It is funded by the Lumina Foundation
and is one of 13 similar programs nationwide. Abriendo Puertas offers academic, advocacy and community building support to high school students at seven local schools and has a college presence at five local institutions.
“We focus on Latino student success,” Alejo said. High school programming includes meeting with student success mentors regularly, ACT prep workshops, and civic engagement and leadership opportunities including trips to Washington, D.C. to share their stories as immigrant students with legislators and advocate for tuition equality for all students.
Hola CBU helped me make relationships and make my way around school. It’s just a great support group,” said Gabriella Molina
“Hola CBU helped me make relationships and make my way around school. It’s just a great support group,” said Gabriella Molina
“A lot of our students are first generation students, so they don’t even have older siblings to help them navigate the process,” Alejo said. The college extension of Abriendo Puertas is similar, but unique in certain ways. Each campus group chose its own name and wrote its own charter. The CBU students decided to call their group "Hola CBU."
“They have just blown me away. I am amazed at how much they have embraced CBU. They immediately became a part of the community,” Dr. Anne Kenworthy, Vice President of Enrollment for CBU, said. “They are extremely active and do a lot of service work, and they’re not exclusionary.”
Since its inception last fall semester, Hola CBU has held study groups, aided prospective students, held fundraisers (including a Salsa and Bachata dance in the cafeteria), volunteered at community events, and helped with the Abriendo Puertas high school activities. For many of the Hola CBU students, the group is about support.
“It’s helped me learn about the struggles of my fellow Latino students and how we can help each other out,” Daniela Molina, 22, said. She transferred to CBU from Victory University once it closed. “Most of us struggle to juggle school and work efficiently.”
For Molina, the Latino Student Success Scholarship at CBU was the answer to her plight when she had no other options after the affordable and accessible private school Victory University closed last year. “Hola CBU helped make the transition from one school to the other smoother, and it helped me make relationships better and make my way around school. It’s just a great support group,” said the marketing major from Olive Branch.
One other requirement for the scholarship is students must pay towards the loan while they are in school. The amount owed per month averages to $50. “It’s been a great help. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to finish [college], I don’t think,” Molina said.
According to Kenworthy, the Hola CBU students—which has grown its membership to more than 45, including more than just the Latino Success Scholarship recipients—are bright stars on the CBU campus. “They are just amazing students. To come out of the gate that quickly doing service work and hosting functions...I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re so helpful. I’m excited about this group,” Kenworthy said. “I feel like we’re in this together. They are part of our community. They live with us. They work with us. They are us."