Opportunity Scholars live ‘The Dream US’ at DSU

Delaware State University’s 34 Opportunity Scholars met with DSU President Harry Williams, Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and co-founder of the scholarship program, Donald Graham, on Tuesday morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center. The scholarship was created for immigrants who could not qualify for traditional scholarships because of their illegal status. (Submitted Photo/Delaware State University)

Delaware State University’s 34 Opportunity Scholars met with DSU President Harry Williams, Gov. Jack Markell, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and co-founder of the scholarship program, Donald Graham, on Tuesday morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center. The scholarship was created for immigrants who could not qualify for traditional scholarships because of their illegal status. (Submitted Photo/Delaware State University)

DOVER –– Thirty-four Delaware State University students — all immigrants to the United States — were recognized Tuesday in a ceremony celebrating their first week on campus.

They were able to attend the university through the TheDream.US Opportunity Scholarship program.

All the students, while successful in high school, were unable to acquire adequate scholarship funding to attend college in their home states due to their immigration status –– all were born outside the U.S. but have a have legal presence through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“My girlfriend sent me an email about the scholarship because she knew my family couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition,” said Jeff Diaz –– born in Ecuador and raised in North Carolina. “For other kids at my high school, college in North Carolina was like $3,000 a semester. But for me, it would have been almost $10,000 a semester.”

Many young people with illegal or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival status are not eligible for in-state tuition for college or are barred from applying or attending all together, but TheDream.US (scholarship program) is opening doors for these otherwise successful kids, university officials said.

The idea to provide a scholarship allowing DREAMers to attend participating colleges was born three years ago and since, 1,700 students have been able to attend college through TheDream.US’ scholarship programs.

“I researched scholarships for immigrants and eventually found TheDream.US and I am so thankful. I’m too grateful for words,” said Olivia Bakale –– born in Gabon and raised in Louisiana.

Her scholarship, like all Opportunity Scholarships, will cover tuition, fees, housing and meal costs for four years.

So far, only a few colleges accept the scholarship and Delaware was one of the first states to sign on to participate in the scholarship program and DSU was the perfect college for Opportunity Scholars to apply.

“Delaware State is a historically African American university and we come here as part of a community,” said Donald Graham, co-founder of TheDream.US. “Delaware State started because there were high quality black high school students with a lot of potential who didn’t have anywhere to go to further their education. You are here because you were born in a different country and your options were limited. This university is a place of opportunity.”

DSU’s first class of Opportunity Scholars is made up of students primarily born in Mexico, central and South America. The students all were brought to the U.S.  at a young age and went through the traditional American public school system.

The scholarship has similar requirements as most academic scholarships (a GPA of 2.8 or above is required to apply) so each student has proven themselves throughout their schooling as a high achiever.

“A college education is now necessary to be a member of the middle class,” said DSU President Dr. Harry Williams while addressing the Opportunity Scholars Tuesday. “I have seen your grades and accomplishments from high school and I know you will go on to be successful here as well.”

Since the TheDream.US was founded three years ago, its 1,700 students have proven a 95 percent retention rate –– much higher than general admission retention.

“This is an opportunity no one else in my family has had,” said Alondra Duenas –– born in Mexico and raised in North Carolina. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college and I just want to make them proud.”

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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