Scholarship brings college dreams closer for 10 Boston students

With contributions from over 100 donors, the program was able to award $24,000 to 10 undocumented immigrants, all 2017 graduates of the city’s high schools.

College kids hands for scholarshipBOSTON, September 1, 2017 – Several aspire to caring professions: nurse, surgeon, pediatrician, teacher. One will study international relations and hopes to work at the United Nations. Another aims to become an FBI agent.

All 10 are undocumented immigrants – some protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), some living completely in the shadows. Without papers, they don’t qualify for federal financial aid; those without DACA don’t even qualify for in-state tuition at Massachusetts public colleges and universities.

But this week, the 10 young women got good news: The Unafraid Scholarship, started by a group of educators under the auspices of the Boston Teachers Union, distributed $24,000 in grants to help them cover the cost of their first year of college.

“I never knew how hard a college education would be until my senior year came around and I didn't know how I would pay for college,” said a young woman who came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was 9. “I kept going from person to person asking what my best options would be.”

Now she’s enrolled at the University of Massachusetts–Boston. Even with in-state tuition, she still faced more than $10,000 in costs. The Unafraid Scholarship helped her narrow the gap by $3,000.

“I know my parents are willing to work more hours to be able to pay for my education and to help out my sisters pay for theirs, but I know they work enough already,” she said. “Receiving this scholarship meant that I was a step closer to seeing my career become a reality.”

Adriana Costache, a science teacher at Fenway High School, came up with the idea for the scholarship after seeing many of her students struggle to cover the cost of higher education. Over the past four years, she has raised funds to help 11 students from Fenway.

This year, through a teachers group called the Unafraid Educators, the scholarship was expanded to reach all 2017 Boston high school graduates. MIRA signed on as fiscal sponsor and helped promote the project. More than 100 people contributed, leaving notes such as: “I believe in the future of my students, of all youth, and that we are all responsible for that future. Immigrant youth inspire me to no end.” And: “It is an honor to be part of this amazing opportunity for students to be able to attend college. May God bless all of those who contribute for this amazing cause.”

Jenny Jacobs, a professor at Wheelock College who led the project with Costache, said it was an inspiring experience on multiple levels.

“It’s been said that the worth of a nation is measured by its efforts to support those most vulnerable, and without a doubt, undocumented young people are among our most vulnerable,” she said. “Despite this, or maybe because of it, they have a unique perspective on American society and so much to teach us all.”

MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona said she’s “immensely proud and grateful” to be part of this initiative, which could be a model for scholarships across our Commonwealth. “I am in awe of these young women’s strength and courage, and wish them all the success in the world,” she said.

Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, noted that with DACA in danger of being rescinded, many students face immediate uncertainty. Boston teachers “will continue to stand with, defend and support our DACA-eligible students and colleagues,” she said.

“The Unafraid Scholarship demonstrates our commitment as educators to supporting all students from pre-K to 12th grade and beyond as they pursue their dreams of attending college,” Tang added. “Through this scholarship fund, we are proud to partner with MIRA to help make this dream for so many of our undocumented students a reality that is within their grasp.”

Costache said she hopes to expand the scholarship next year to cover all undocumented Boston public school graduates, not just graduating seniors – since college bills extend for several years. And she urged higher education leaders to do more to help undocumented students.

“I would like to see more private Massachusetts colleges step up to offer support to undocumented, DACA-mented and TPS students,” she said. “From accepting more undocumented students, to providing more scholarships and grants, there is a lot more that colleges and universities can do be more inclusive.”

But right now, Costache is focused on celebrating the 10 scholarship recipients’ successes.

As one girl put it: “I refuse to let my immigration status stop me from doing what I love. So every day, I count my blessings, being alive, having my loved ones with me, and having the opportunity to further my education. I will become a teacher. I will make a difference.”

Donate to the Unafraid Scholarship for next year ►