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NMSU offers DREAM Excellence trainings regarding access to higher education

If a young child was brought to the United States by his or her parents from another country, can that child later attend college in the U.S.? Is it possible for an undocumented student to receive state-funded scholarships to attend New Mexico State University? If a student has high school transcripts from another country, what are the options for higher education in the U.S.?


About 20 people sitting in a classroom auditorium
Attendees listen in on a DREAM Excellence training provided by the New Mexico State University and Dona Ana Community College Immigrant Student Issues Committee regarding higher education options for undocumented students, students with Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals status and students with foreign transcripts. (NMSU courtesy photo)
Man standing in a lab
New Mexico State University alum Cesar Montelongo stands in the laboratory where he worked on his master?s degree in biology with a minor in molecular biology. He is currently in the M.D.-Ph.D. program at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago (NMSU courtesy photo).

The Immigrant Student Issues Committee at NMSU and Dona Ana Community College has the answers.

Laura Gutierrez Spencer, committee chair, leads DREAM Excellence trainings to inform individuals about students? options.

Gutierrez Spencer, who is also the director of Chicano Programs at NMSU, said the goal is to inform and educate people about access to higher education for undocumented students, students with foreign transcripts and students with Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals status.

?The training details current law, including federal law, state law and NMSU policy,? Gutierrez Spencer said.

Trainings were held in Las Cruces and Albuquerque earlier this year, and another training is planned for April in Alamogordo.

One focus of DREAM Excellence training is informing attendees about DACA.

DACA is a federal presidential order by President Barack Obama. Individuals with DACA status must meet specific requirements and have no criminal record. The application fee is approximately $500, which includes a background check.

Students with DACA status must have graduated from high school, and they must provide documentation for every year that they have been in the U.S.

?If they?re caught committing a crime, it?s not going to hold,? Gutierrez Spencer said.
?As long as they remain law-abiding productive citizens, there?s a limited protection against deportation. They can work legally in the U.S., but they cannot receive federal financial aid.?

New Mexico has its own set of laws. A 2005 senate bill prevents New Mexico institutions from discriminating against potential students due to their immigration status. The bill also stipulates that students must have attended a New Mexico high school for at least one year and have either graduated from a New Mexico high school or have earned a New Mexico General Education Development diploma. Such students are eligible for the lottery scholarship and state scholarships, and they must meet all of the same academic qualifications required of other students.

Cesar Montelongo knows first hand about higher education options. An NMSU alum with DACA status, he is currently in the M.D.-Ph.D. program at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.

He has come a long way from his early childhood in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, where he and his family lived in fear. Montelongo recalls signs of the violence being very close to his home.

?We lived in the outskirts, and that was where many of the bodies of the murdered women from the maquiladoras were found,? he said. ?It was very close to our home. It almost twists your reality as a child, of what kind of world you live in and the kind of expectations you can have for yourself as you grow up. My parents wanted us to become educated and do something with our lives.?

Montelongo?s parents obtained temporary visas in order to work on farms in Las Cruces year after year. At some point, they never returned to Juarez.

As a high school junior, medical school was the furthest thing from his mind. After earning an exceptionally high SAT score, he received a letter from NMSU offering him a full-tuition scholarship and book stipend. The State of New Mexico had just passed the 2005 senate bill.

Montelongo triple majored and received bachelor?s degrees in biology, microbiology and Spanish with minors in chemistry and biochemistry in 2011. However, as an undocumented student, he was unable to continue his education from 2011 to 2012. After DACA was created in June 2012, Montelongo was able to pursue a master?s degree at NMSU. He completed his master?s in biology with a minor in molecular biology in 2015.

He values the education he received at NMSU and said his experience was challenging, yet the faculty and staff were supportive.

?The faculty pointed me in the right direction,? he said. ?I was able to learn from my own experiences but not to the point of feeling lost or overwhelmed.?

He was unable to study abroad or take advantage of research opportunities outside of Las Cruces.

?During my undergraduate years, I did not have DACA status, so I couldn?t travel,? he said. ?I always had to look out for any opportunities I could find.?

Montelongo said immigrant students represent the American ideal of working hard and not having the road paved for them.

?It really resonates with me ? the American idealism of moving through life with hard work and having the dedication to accomplish your goals,? he said.

Montelongo hopes to provide new means for diagnosing disease and wants to be part of the efforts to bring in new tools to everyday clinical care.

?The end goal is two-fold,? he said. ?To begin identifying and treating disease before it happens in order to reduce total cost of treatment and to support traditional diagnostic tools and treatment options for improved efficacy and patient well-being.?

Anyone interested in attending or requesting a DREAM Excellence training should call Gutierrez Spencer at 575-646-4206 or email lgutzspc@nmsu.edu.