USAO students raise funds to endow new United Dream Scholarship opportunity

Scholarship open to DACA recipients, international and undocumented students
Scholarship open to DACA recipients, international and undocumented students

Students in the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s United Hispanic Council have recently raised the funds needed to endow a new scholarship with the USAO Foundation. The United Dream Scholarship is a $500 award that can be used for any college-related expenses and is now available to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, international students and undocumented students.

“This scholarship will allow us to reach a segment of students that so many colleges simply do not allocate resources to,” said Sid Hudson, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the USAO Foundation. “The perspective that students from other countries provide is absolutely invaluable to the kind of education we value at USAO. They bring an irreplaceable diversity of thought and culture to campus.”

In addition to citizenship requirements, students who wish to apply for the United Dream Scholarship must not be eligible for other financial aid, must be high school seniors or undergraduates planning to attend USAO, and must submit a current resume as well as a 500-word essay answering the question: “What is the biggest challenge you have faced and how has it shaped you?”

“The idea of creating a scholarship fund for undocumented students came to me during my senior year of high school,” said Arlette Melendez, business administration major and founder of the United Hispanic Council. “Undocumented and international students do not qualify for ANY federal aid. As a person who comes from a low-income, first-generation, immigrant background, I know that if I wanted to receive a higher education, I had to find a way to pay for college.”

While USAO offers robust financial aid options, many scholarships list “U.S. citizen or resident” among the criteria, automatically overlooking students who may meet every other criteria. The few scholarship options for undocumented and international students on a national level are extremely competitive. Compounding these problems, such students also have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which are considerably higher.

“I know that these scholarships will motivate students to continue to pursue their education,” said Melendez. “I am very thankful to have found a like-minded executive team and advisor who have worked very hard to put out these scholarships. Without them, I would not have been able to see this grow.”

The first Hispanic student organization is USAO’s history, the United Hispanic Council offers students a way to explore Hispanic heritage, secure representation within the community and provide scholarships. Melendez founded the club after realizing that the university only had two student-run cultural groups.

“Last semester, we had planned an entire community event along with the Inter-Tribal Heritage Club and the Black Student Alliance where we were going to showcase our culture through music, dance and food, but, due to COVID-19, we had to cancel it,” she said. “Hopefully, we will be able to get that back up soon. We have lots of ideas and events coming soon if COVID allows!”

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