Kelly M., a management student, will be graduating with her bachelor's degree this summer. Her mom is her "biggest inspiration," and like most parents, she wanted her children to "get a good education and have a good life."
In other words, Kelly is living her mother’s "American dream."
That dream started when Kelly was six. Her family left Honduras seeking a better life in the Unites States. “Unfortunately, circumstances pushed my mother to bring my brother and I here illegally,” said Kelly, who has lived in Alexandria for the last 16 years.
Kelly wasn't affected by this until she was a junior in high school and learned she couldn't get an ID, license, job, or apply to just any university. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) policy allowed her to spend two years at Northern Virginia Community College before transferring to Mason.
"Although I still had to pay out-of-state tuition and received no government financial aid, I felt blessed to have the opportunity to continue into higher education," she said.
After paying out-of-state tuition for two semesters, Kelly was able to start paying in-state tuition in 2014 under a Virginia policy change for DACA students.
Kelly continued on to Mason and was the first School of Business student to be awarded the Mason Dream Scholarship. The scholarship provides funds to Mason business students whose immigration status may hinder them from accessing higher education. It's awarded based on merit and financial need, and is inclusive of documented and undocumented immigrants.
"It's a blessing, because it’s not something you expect. It’s motivation to keep doing well," Kelly said.
Lisa Gring-Pemble, a School of Business associate professor and director of social entrepreneurship and global impact at the school's Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, created and funded the scholarship after working with the Mason DREAMers advisory board. Mason DREAMers, a nonpartisan student organization, works to create a more inclusive environment for undocumented students.
"Their level of education and advocacy on behalf of the DREAMers was nothing short of remarkable, and I wanted to do something to support them somehow," she said.
Her obligation as a professor to support the students and the leadership potential she saw in the DREAMers inspired her to create the scholarship.
Kelly balances her academics with an internship at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, a job with the NOVA Pathway Program helping at risk students transition from high school to higher education, and helping her mom start a new business in the hospitality industry. So far she has helped with proposals and marketing plans and will continue to work with her mom after she graduates this summer.
"I think this is a great way of paying her back for everything she's done, because she's the main person who's been helping me through all of this, financially and emotionally. I feel like this is my way of giving back to her," Kelly said.
Eventually Kelly would like to look for other management job opportunities that offer a fast-paced environment. She also intends to pursue a master’s degree.
"This is the land of opportunity and it just takes someone to encourage and motivate you, or have it within yourself to push for something better," she said.
Gring-Pemble hopes the Mason Dream Scholarship serves as motivation for other students. Her goal is to get the scholarship endowed to be able to support more than one DREAMer student at a time.
"There are more DREAMers than this one scholarship will ever be able to serve," she said, adding that she’d like to have an endowed university-wide scholarship for DREAMers too.