When Kristov Martinez, 18, was brought illegally to the U.S. 10 years ago from Monterrey, Mexico by his parents, they told him that it was to build a better life.
Despite moving to Texas' Rio Grande Valley with no home, no car, and limited English language skills and subsequently attending a number of different Valley schools, Martinez graduated this May ranked 12th out of 111 graduates at Edinburg High School.
"I want to help my father (a self-employed welder and now a legal U.S. resident) start his own business," said Martinez, who plans to major in business administration at The University of Texas-Pan American. "I might want to also work for a large corporation in the United States one day."
Martinez is among 28 students who will attend UTPA with the help of a scholarship from TheDream.US, the first national scholarship program for DREAMers - undocumented immigrant students. Among 1,000 inaugural applicants to the scholarship program, nearly 300 students who represent 28 countries and 18 states have accepted the scholarship.
In a press release from TheDream.US president Candy Marshall, she said the program's founders, partners and donors are determined to help talented students pursue their educational goals.
"We, as a nation, have an opportunity to leverage the investment we have already made in these young highly motivated men and women by offering a Scholarship Fund that will support them in joining our next generation of talented health care providers, educators, accountants, scientists, software developers and social workers. They are part of our country's future," Marshall said in the release.
UT Pan American is one of 10 partnering colleges and universities with the scholarship program that have pledged their support to TheDream.US' mission and aspiration of DREAMer scholars. To be eligible for the scholarship, the student must enroll in a partnering institution and meet the following requirements:
• Qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program;
• Graduated from a U.S.-based high school with a cumulative 2.5 or higher GPA (or achieved a GED diploma with an equivalent score); and
• Demonstrate financial need.
Students were selected based on their academic potential and demonstrated motivation to succeed by an independent Selection Committee using an objective scoring system. The scholarship helps cover the student's cost of tuition, fees and books. The award can range up to $25,000 based on financial need and tuition costs. To maintain the scholarship the student needs to remain enrolled in a partnering institution and maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA as well as their DACA status.
TheDream.US was founded in February 2014 by Graham Holdings Company CEO Donald E. Graham, Democratic activist and philanthropist Henry R. Muñoz III and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. It launched an initial $25 million scholarship fund from philanthropic and business leaders nationwide, including the Graham family and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They were later joined by The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Gilbert and Jacki Cisneros Foundation, The PepsiCo Foundation, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, through Startup:Education, and Pierre and Pam Omidyar through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Over 200 individuals have also donated more than $30,000 to the scholarship fund, now at $32 million.
To help ensure the students' success, TheDream.US has also signed on other partner organizations, including its newest - College Track, which recruits students from underserved communities and works with them continuously over 10 years - from the summer before the 9th grade through college.
For Martinez, TheDream.US tagline - "Building the American Dream One Student at a Time" - has become real.
"This is going to help me pay for my school and my future," he said.