This is the second piece in Fast Forward’s 2018 Accelerator Series featuring DREAMer’s Roadmap.
“Students Like You Don’t go to College”
Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca was a model student. Yearbook editor, President of her academy, and lead in the school play… so you can imagine her shock when her high school guidance counselor told her, “Students like you don’t go to college.” Let that sink in. Students like you don’t go to college.
Let’s backtrack. The youngest of 11 children, Sarahi and her family immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was four years old. Because she was young when her family crossed the border, Sarahi was able to attend grades K-12 in the US – a luxury that was uniquely hers. Her older siblings had already spent years attending school in Mexico, so language was an immediate and harsh barrier which resulted in most of them dropping out without pursuing higher education.
The Big Idea
DREAMer’s Roadmap opens the door to higher ed for the 65,000 undocumented students graduating from high school each year.
The Turning Point
Sarahi, on the other hand, was fluent in English and well prepped to apply to college. She was determined to make it to college not just for herself, but for her family. When it came time to apply for financial aid, Sarahi was shocked to find out she did not qualify for FAFSA because she was undocumented. Sarahi was devastated. She’d grown up in the US for most of her life, yet was being denied the opportunity to pursue her dreams because of her documentation status.
Without any way to pay for college, Sarahi went to her counselor to find out what she could do. Were there scholarships? Grants? “No,” her college counselor told her, “Students like you don’t go to college.” Sarahi fell into a depression, and a couple of months later was told that there were, in fact, scholarship opportunities for her as an undocumented student. They were just harder to find. Sarahi ended up attending Cañada College, then went on to complete an entrepreneurial program at Stanford. She told herself, “Someday, somehow, I’m going to fix this problem.” And now, she is.
DREAMer’s Roadmap: Transforming Access to College
DREAMer’s Roadmap began as a blog providing the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year with access to hard-to-find scholarships. DREAMer’s Roadmap began as a blog because this urgent issue needed a solution fast. Launching a website was the quickest way Sarahi could get these opportunities into the hands of the next generation of DREAMers.
What Sarahi really wanted to build, though, was an app. She had spent her long bus rides to school searching for scholarships on her phone, and she knew an app would give other DREAMers an easy way to scroll through top opportunities from anywhere. Equipped with zero coding experience, yet more determined than ever, Sarahi entered the Voto Latino Innovators Challenge to build the DREAMer’s Roadmap App. And it won!
DREAMer’s Roadmap also allows students to create an account so they can “save” relevant opportunities. The app’s search tool allows users to filter by keyword, location, immigration status, and education level. The app doubly serves as a student success portal. They provide tips and advice to guide first generation students through the often difficult transition from high school to college.
Undocumented Students are Making Their College Dreams a Reality
A shining example of DREAMer’s Roadmap’s success comes from a user named Lidiana. As a community college attendee, when Lidiana discovered the DREAMer’s Roadmap app, a new world of scholarship opportunities opened up for her. Through the app she found a scholarship that enabled her to afford transferring to UCLA, a four year university. “Now I’m a graduate,” Lidiana shared, “the first one in my family!” DREAMer’s Roadmap has been downloaded 20,000+ times by students across the country. And, the average user saves 5-25 scholarships.
Two-thirds of DACA recipients are under 26 years old. This means tools for pursuing higher education are critical. Sarahi plans to expand the scope of the platform by making it a “One Stop Shop for Dreamers.” This way, “students like her” can thrive in their pursuit of higher education.