May 14, 2014

Dream Project freshmen reflect on year 1 at the UW

By Undergraduate Academic Affairs

The Dream Project assists low-income and first-generation high school students in attaining higher education. Students in the Dream Project overcome incredible obstacles to attend college, but the challenges—and rewards—don’t end once they step foot on campus. Three Dream Project students describe their journey to UW, what they’ve learned their first year, and how it feels to give back (also, how important the bowling alley is and when to stop calling your mother!)

Oscar Alejandre

  • Majors: Astronomy and Physics (intended)
  • High school: Arts and Academics Academy, Burien
Photo of Oscar Alejandre

“In this photo I’m inside the Physics/Astronomy auditorium. This is a pendulum, which was studied by Galileo Galilei. I love this because every time I go there to learn about astronomy I feel as if I were Galileo, Albert Einstein, or Isaac Newton as students—students who would become the masters of science.” —Oscar Alejandre

Why did you choose to come to the UW?

UW was always, without a doubt, the school of my dreams. I loved the fact that it was close to home, that it was big, and that it had such a variety of opportunities. I thought of other schools, but they were far away, expensive, and I just didn’t get that same positive vibe. What really sealed the deal was going to a lecture for the first time during Spring BBQ, an event held by the Dream Project. It was my first ever experience of being in college. Nobody else in my family had that experience.

I also came to UW because it had my major at the time, aeronautical engineering. Not a lot of four year schools in Washington state have that degree. However, since UW has a lot of opportunities I discovered that astronomy and physics were what I wanted to learn about and pursue as a career.

How is the UW different than what you thought it was when you first started?

Coming to UW I knew that it would be difficult to adjust to the large class sizes, the vast amount of people walking around, and not having a lot of friends as I had in high school. When I got here I was in a FIG and in the Dream Project. These two allowed me to make friends, network, and really learn about life at UW. This made my transition so much easier! Suddenly this great community had become smaller. Now I’m not overwhelmed by the large numbers of people walking around because I know in the crowd there is someone I know, or will potentially get to know.

What is the nature of your involvement with the Dream Project? What has it been like to be on the UW-side of the Dream Project’s work?

For two quarters I had been a mentor for the Dream Project. I worked with eight or so different students and tried to help them with the application process and with trying to set them on the right path to accomplishing their dream, whether that is going to college, the military, or right into a job. I was there to motivate, inspire, and help them 110%, just like my mentor had done for me. This quarter I’ve taken a greater role as a High School Lead at ACE High School. I’m in charge of 20 mentors who are there to help these great kids. I serve as an ambassador to the DP, as a mentor to the mentors, and an inspiration to the kids as someone who had a dream of going to college and with hard work and a lot of help, ultimately made it. When you get one of the first generation kids to college, you don’t only help them, but their families, their community, and help break that cycle of a non-college-going culture.

Are you different now than you were when classes started in the fall? In what ways?

I’ve learned a lot about myself over the fall and throughout this school year. I learned how much more responsible I am. I help my siblings with homework every night and I have to continuously remind them to take it out or if they have completed it. I don’t have that luxury of someone telling me to do my homework or wake up every day to go to school or work. I’ve learned to really value education and appreciate the wonderful opportunities in my life and the people around me. College is something new to my family and me—I have to do my best to set an example to my family.

Medina Khedir

  • Major: Psychology
  • High School: Cleveland High School, Seattle
Photo of Medina Khedir

“I am at the HUB. This is my favorite place on campus because this is where everyone comes to hang out and just chill. This is where I met a lot of my friends, as well!” —Medina Khedir

Why did you choose to come to the UW?

Because I’ve always loved the UW. Though at first I was a bit intimidated to apply because of UW Seattle’s acceptance rate. But my UW Dream Project mentors helped me overcome my fear and told me to apply.

How is the UW different than what you thought it was when you first started?

It’s a lot harder, and teaches you to rely on yourself.

What is the nature of your involvement with the Dream Project? What has it been like to be on the UW-side of the Dream Project’s work?

I was a mentee during my junior and senior year of high school. Now I work with the Scholarship Selection Committee. It’s a lot of work, but it’s amazing seeing how Dream Project is so passionate about helping students get into college.

Are you different now than you were when classes started in the fall? In what ways?

I have learned to use my time better. I’ve learned to rely on myself and have learned that I am the only person responsible for my own learning and my own grades.

Savannah Williams

  • Major: Social Welfare (intended)
  • Minor: American Sign Language
  • High School: Academy of Citizenship and Empowerment (ACE at the Tyee Educational Complex), SeaTac.
Photo of Savannah Williams

“This photo is outside a banquet room at the HUB. I had my ‘Live the Dream’ scholarship banquet in that room, and I had my first American Sign Language Club meeting there. It was a lot of ‘firsts’ that I cared a lot about.” —Savannah Williams

Why did you choose to come to the UW?

I chose to come to UW ultimately because of Dream Project. When I was in high school, I didn’t get much support from my environment. We weren’t a college-going campus. When describing my high school, I say that “graduation is the goal, but it isn’t an expectation.” There are staff members who care, but there are so many who just give up on the students who need it the most. I was lucky—I was blessed enough to have parents to push me to be the first-generation college student that I am today. With Dream Project, I went through a couple of different mentors and honestly didn’t know what to expect with the organization. Then I found Hannah, the High School Lead for Dream Project. She became my mentor, and I had more support than I had ever received in high school. I applied to my dream school, Gonzaga University, and had my heart set on it. When Hannah and I looked at financial aid, it just wasn’t going to be attainable so we sat down and looked at what was going to actually be financially reasonable. I talked with my parents and we decided on UW. When I was younger and took a field trip here I came home and told my parents that I was going to UW because it had a Subway and a bowling alley. So I guess I came because of the support I received from Dream Project, the Subway and the bowling alley.

How is the UW different than what you thought it was when you first started?

When I first started, I just saw UW as the big campus where I knew absolutely nobody. I found myself struggling in classes and realizing that maybe being a first-generation college student and working to pay for school was a lot more than I can handle. Now I look at UW as a big campus with so many small opportunities to get involved. I feel so supported with everything I do and whenever anything exciting happens to me, I always feel like I have someone to tell right away. I love that feeling.

What is the nature of your involvement with the Dream Project? What has it been like to be on the UW-side of the Dream Project’s work?

As a mentee I had received the “Live the Dream” scholarship through Dream Project. Then when I came to college, I signed up for Dream Project in the fall and mentored at Kent Meridian. I mentored fall and winter there and just started being a High School Lead at HS3 on Evergreen Campus. Something that is—although early, at 6:30 on Friday mornings—very rewarding. It reminds me of my high school and everything that Hannah did for me as mentor. It is different being on the UW side of Dream Project, and I love it more than any other part of UW. I find that it goes well with my intended major and it reminds me that there are so many people out there with my type of situation that need that mentor to push them to where they can be at instead of being like society and letting them settle. The biggest thing for me was that Hannah didn’t let me settle.

Are you different now than you were when classes started in the fall? In what ways?

I feel very independent and involved in this school. I can’t walk to class without seeing someone I know every 10 seconds, and I just talk to anyone in class now. I find that I stand up more for the things I believe in and have become invested in becoming a better person and allowing this university to help me become that. It was hard for me transitioning. I had to call my mom quite often and have her try and help me solve problems in life that she had not encountered, but I have grown and now I feel like I never call her and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing—I am growing up and realizing who I want to be in life. But I know she will always be there, waiting for me if I need her.

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