This summer I had the opportunity to return to my Alma matter, the University of California Berkeley to intern with the Undocumented Student Program (USP). USP is one of the first and few programs in California and across the country dedicated entirely to provide holistic services and programs for undocumented students- who were mostly brought to the US at very early ages by their parents- . Not only does USP provide academic counseling, legal support, financial aid resources and an extensive campus referral network but it also strives to increase the access and retention of this student population in higher education, by forming partnerships with administrative, academic and student affairs offices across the university and local organizations.
My interest to support and work with this student population developed on the second year of my Student Affairs Administration and Public Administration dual Masters programs, as I focused most of my academic assignments, research and presentations on the unique needs and challenges faced by undocumented students. Through my research, I have learned that most undocumented students have high academic performance, high civic engagement in their communities, and while most people erroneously see undocumented students as a monolithic group, they actually come from a wide array of geographical areas and ethnicities. The diversity of this student population is not only reflected on their ethnicities but also on their identities which intersect, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, academic performance, and others. Furthermore, in addition to the challenges faced by regular college students as they navigate through institutions of higher education, undocumented students find themselves in unique circumstances that add challenges to their academic and professional journeys, such as, living in constant fear of being deported or having family members deported, higher levels of stress and anxiety, lack of resources to finance their education, social stigma and others.
Even though I was becoming an informed scholar and future professional through my research on undocumented students, I felt that my research was not doing anything to help them, for this reason I decided to use my internship to work on practical projects that would help and benefit this student population. Thus, after a couple of talks with USP’s Director, Meng So, I was offered the opportunity to intern with USP, becoming their first intern for the program. The main project for my internship was to write a grant proposal to apply for a grant from the University of California Education Abroad Program that seeks to increase the participation of historically underrepresented groups in study abroad programs. Prior to the implementation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)- a legislation that provides discretionary and temporary relief from deportation to qualifying individuals, along with an employment authorization- undocumented students were excluded from study abroad programs due to their legal status. The opportunity to study abroad was expanded to include DACAmented (DACA recipients) students three years ago through Advance Parole, an administrative practice that allows DACAmented students to re-entry the country after temporary travel for humanitarian, educational or employment purposes. Our proposal seeks to increase the institutional knowledge and cultural competency of the main stakeholders involved on the study abroad process, such as the study abroad office, financial aid, academic advisors and students. USP’s goal is to use the grant to hire a graduate assistant to conduct research, collect quantitative and qualitative data and to develop informational materials to increase awareness about DACA, Advance Parole and study abroad opportunities for DACAmented students.
My other project with USP was to develop informational materials. I was in charge of designing infographics to inform undocumented students about the opportunities and resources available to study abroad and about the Advance Parole application process. Additionally, I used quantitative data collected by USP to develop a report that visually shows the demographics of the students being served by USP, which will be used when presenting and talking about USP to different stakeholders.
Being able to intern with USP was a great opportunity because not only did I learned a lot about undocumented students, DACA, Advance Parole and USP’s efforts to support this student population but I was also able to gain new skills such as grant writing and turning quantitative and qualitative data into easier to read and understand infographics. Furthermore, working for USP gave me the opportunity to put theory from the MPA and the MSAA into practice, such as having a better understanding of Cal’s organizational structure and undocumented students developmental needs and being able to collaborate across different offices and departments. Additionally, I was able to enjoy California’s beautiful weather while catching up with old friends, trying new restaurants in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, running around the Bay or simply walking around campus.
Lastly, I want to send a special thank you to the UC Berkeley Study Abroad Office with whom I closely collaborated on both the grant proposal and the study abroad infographic.
Dual Master’s Candidate, Student Affairs & Public Administration
State University of New York Binghamton