The University of Nebraska at Omaha is now one of two Nebraska universities to offer scholarships for undocumented students.
The scholarship, known as the Dreamers Pathway Scholars Program, is open to undocumented high school seniors and college students who are from the Omaha metro area. In its first year, it paid for the tuition costs of 22 students, including their tuition, fees, books and housing.
Dreamers, who are young people who were brought to the United States as children illegally by undocumented parents and have received temporary lawful status by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, also known as DACA, are not eligible for federal aid or loans.
A private donor of the university gave UNO a grant specifically for the Dreamers Pathway Scholarship after concerns were raised that Dreamers from Omaha weren’t being provided opportunities because of their legal status.
The scholarship began in the Fall of 2015 and has already received numerous new applications from students for the Fall of 2016. Each year, the scholarship will add on 15 new scholars, if not more. Other private donors are already starting conversations with the university about donating to the Dreamers scholarship because they see it as an opportunity not just for the students, but for the community.
”Most of these students are bilingual and going into high demand areas such as bio, formatics and computer science, medicine - so they’re going to be professionals and leaders in our community,” says Dr. Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a professor at the university.
These students, who are described by Dr. Alvarado as over-achieving, smart and ambitious, are expected to maintain a positive GPA, attend mandatory study halls and do community service projects as part of the scholarship requirements.
Cristina Lamas is the Program Coordinator for the scholarship and is responsible for ensuring students meet the requirements. She says many of these students have faced challenging obstacles which may have discouraged them from completing school, but assures her students are extremely grateful for the opportunity.
“In the hearts of these students, they are U.S. citizens and are residents of Nebraska and so for us to be able to provide this opportunity for them is so important. We want them to know that there’s people that believe in them and not just say that but also assist them in what it is that they need,” says Lamas.