Interview with TheDream.US‘ Program Director of Advocacy, Development, and Communications, Gabriela Pacheco.
Organization Mission: Thousands of immigrant youth want nothing more than to get a college education. At TheDream.US, we work with a community of partners to provide that opportunity.
Population Served: Immigrant Youth
Founding Year: 2014
Organization Website: www.thedream.us
Please provide a brief overview of the organization’s work.
TheDream.US is the nation’s largest college access and success program for immigrant youth, representing close to 4,000 current and former Scholars. By collaborating with partner universities and community colleges, TheDream.US provides scholarships to immigrant students who currently hold or are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS). We have two programs, the National and Opportunity Scholarships. The National Scholarships provides scholarships for up to $33,000 and the Opportunity Scholarship of up to $80,000 for bachelor’s degree programs.
In a few sentences, please describe the problem you are working to solve and your approach to solving this problem.
Our Scholars are immigrant youth who came to this country at a young age. For many, it’s the only country they’ve ever known. Over 800,000 immigrant youth now have DACA or TPS status which gives them the right to remain in the United States and to work legally. But even with these immigration protections DREAMers have no path to citizenship, access to Pell Grants, federal education loans, or access to federal work study. Many face paying out-of-state tuition even in their home states.
While DREAMers are highly motivated students who bring a sense of responsibility and accountability to their college educations – only 5 -10% can afford it. Working with our 75+ Partner Colleges, we provide scholarships to highly-motivated DREAMers with DACA/TPS to help them pay for their college education.
How and why did you first start working for this organization?
As a DREAMer myself I knew first-hand the struggle of trying to get an education when the state you live in didn’t recognize your contributions or talents. After being able to successfully find private funding to help pay for my education, I wanted to make sure others like me had the same opportunities to obtain a college education. I worked with the co-founders and team of this organization to help start it, shape it, and promote it within the immigrant community.
What current trends are you seeing in your field of work?
We recently surveyed over 1,400 Scholars and the survey results provided a unique picture of TheDream.US’s Scholars high levels of uncertainty and anxiety that they are facing in the current immigration climate, particularly with the forthcoming end of DACA and TPS. Thankfully, more institutions of higher learning are stepping up and opening their doors to undocumented immigrant students. They are also finding ways to provide them with institutional aid, mental and physical health resources, and legal screenings.
What do you think will change most about your work over the next 5 years?
If the issue of DACA is not resolved we may see a loss of talent through youth being deported, or self-determining to leave the country and take their talents and skills to other nations like Canada, European countries, and for some even their birth countries.
What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in the population you serve? Why?
We provide scholarships to highly-motivated DREAMers to help them pay for their college education. Our hope is that these Scholars become life-long learners and active members in their community. We require our Scholars to give back and continue to be involved in our program as alumni and community members. We strive to create an environment of community—we send cohorts of no less than 7 Scholars to each institution to provide them with a sense of community.
What are the three most important skills you value in your staff members? Why?
Our team is small but mighty! We are always up for any challenge and in the current immigration environment what our team is best at is adapting to the times and the needs of our Scholars. We have a continuous growth mind set–where we see opportunity to partner with an organization that can help us expand our goal, we go for it. Lastly, everyone in the team is deeply passionate about these students. While we may not understand all the immigration laws or the policies surrounding this issue, TheDream.US recognizes the humanity and dignity of all students. We believe that no matter where you are from, if you want to go to college, you should have access to an education.
How has technology influenced your field and/or the way your organization works?
Our team depends deeply on technology. First, it requires a robust scholarship management platform to both manage our application process and support our over 4,000 Scholars. We are a data driven organization and rely upon a data management platform to track the persistence, graduation, and academic performance of our Scholars. This data enables us to make program changes as needed. We rely on social media, text messaging, webinars, and email to communicate and connect with our Scholars, Partner Colleges, Supporters, and Donors. We use social media and traditional medial to promote our scholarship and advocate for tuition and aid equity for DREAMers. Finally, we have a virtual team that is based in D.C., San Jose, Seattle, and Miami. Technology enables us to stay connected with each other and remain nimble and efficient.
What are some key achievements your organization has accomplished over the last year and how were you able to attain this success?
As of 2018, TheDream.US committed to providing over $103 million in scholarships, with over $41 million in scholarships distributed. We’ve raised just over $190,000,000 in funds that are 100% dedicated to funding scholarships to DREAMers. With a 94% first year persistence rate, The Dream.US is diligently working toward building a nationwide movement of Scholars – imbuing Scholars with a new sense of hope and a mission to help and support their families, communities, and nation.
What’s next for your organization? What are you looking forward to?
We are looking forward to continuing to support our Scholars, open our next round in November 2018, raise more funds, and help use our voice to change the nation’s narrative about the importance of immigrants – and specifically DREAMers – to our nation. We look forward to the day the United States Congress puts us out of business and passes a law that allows immigrant youth to get access to federal financial aid, loans, and work study.
What do you wish others knew about the organization or the populations you serve?
TheDream.US’s prioritization of education is particularly important in the current immigration climate, where students are on the verge of losing key immigration protections. We partner with institutions, organizations, philanthropies, and businesses who share our values, respect our Scholars, and support DREAMers in their drive to get an education. DREAMers and their contributions are an important part of our nation’s social and economic wellbeing. The efforts to help DREAMers access and succeed in college is improving the ways colleges and universities approach all students’ academic and social needs. Americans from all walks of life want to see common sense at work in our national policies. In that way, the work of TheDream.US is purely practical: we have these amazing resources—talents, skills, future contributions—all waiting to be developed in young DREAMers, and we have a workforce that needs their energy as more Americans retire and leave jobs unfilled. DACA was an example of a policy that freed our DREAMers potential. And we need more such policies, not fewer. We’re saying, “Let’s be resourceful and creative. Let’s find ways to put these two things together.” That’s what our organization does: we help the US solve a pressing problem by developing the untapped energy and skills of some of its young people.
- Time: “These Dreamers’ Future in America Is in Doubt. But They’re Headed to College Anyway” (May, 2018).
- Diverse: “New Scholarship Fund at School Devotes $20M To DACA Students” (March, 2018).
- The Student Loan Report: “More Dreamers Hope to Attend College in the U.S.” (March, 2018).