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In their own words: Scholars reflect on DREAM 2022

Stories & Case Studies
March 2, 2022

In February, eight community college students had front-row seats to the inner workings of higher education reform. The 2022 DREAM Scholars, chosen from a rigorous application process, participated in a week of learning, networking, and leadership development as part of the DREAM Student Scholars program.

Following their time at DREAM 2022, the Scholars came together to reflect on the knowledge and inspiration they gained during the conference. They wrote about the issues that drive them, the information that surprised them, and the ideas they’ll take with them as they continue working to make a change on their campuses and in their communities.

Photos of the eight 2023 DREAM Scholars

We asked:

What were your biggest takeaways from the plenary sessions and workshops at DREAM 2022?

They answered:

“Attending the DREAM conference has given me the opportunity to hear from community colleges across the nation on ongoing issues that their institution and students are met with. In addition to hearing the struggles, I was able to collaborate and discuss with my fellow DREAM Scholars on potential solutions. Students can face challenges before, during, or after college which hinders their ability to fully gain the most from the college experience and journey. Programs must seek to address multiple levels of a student’s needs and should take into account how these are before college, may change during college, and become more apparent after college.”
– Adrian Bell, College of Southern Nevada

“This whole experience was eye-opening. I was given a chance to see different barriers through the eyes of other students, faculty, and leaders, and what each is trying to do to bridge that gap. These perspectives brought an incredible amount of insight that has greatly impacted my own perspective as a student, and what I can do now, on campus, and as a future STEM educator, to help cultivate a sense of belonging in my own classroom.”
– Cyan Hite, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College

“There are many people across the nation that are supporting and trying to make change for student success, single mothers, and a student sense of belonging within community colleges. While attending a session, I learned about mental health protocols within some schools (but not all schools) that caught my attention. Some protocols include reaching out to the student 3-4 times once they put in a request for mental health resources. This is a great way to check on students, make sure that they are ok, and give them somebody to talk to. I would physically send somebody to check on the student as well to give that peace of mind.”
– Brandon Woodall, Lorain County Community College

“I always thought funding was equal. I thought everybody got the same amount of money for necessities. After I attended  DREAM, I realized that funding and resources are not distributed equally. Colleges in rich areas for rich people get more money. Colleges in poor areas for poor people get less. I feel that is wrong. Whichever college you are going to, people are paying to learn and deserve access to equal funding and resources.”
– Ashley Valdez-Ibarra, Gateway to College at Front Range Community College

“One of my major takeaways when attending the DREAM conference was the community that we have created in which we have emboldened and supported each other through the DREAM Scholars. The other was learning that faculty and students are on different sides of the same coin — faculty in other colleges have done quite a bit with helping address education inequity. In a session called ‘Creating a Poverty-Informed Culture,’ I learned that Western Technical College also has a page about “dialogue about and for equity” in their school, which includes tabs on employee engagement, what they are reading, and the work they have done. As a student I find this transparency refreshing.”
– Diego Horisberger, Tunxis Community College

“In the closing plenary session, Dr. Hernandez’s story of his mother stole my heart and the phrase he said: ‘Show up as your authentic self.’ I started my day today and will every day with that mantra. It is important we be ONLY who we are supposed to be. In a session called ‘Belonging Isn’t a Byproduct: It’s a Prerequsite,’ I loved that administrators at Fitchburg State identified that talks around equity and inclusion do not always translate to active practices. I feel that is a prominent blind spot for colleges in deep-red states. Just because you are saying the words does not mean you are doing the work. By their presentation, you could tell they are.”
– Zennia Nesmith, Chattanooga State Community College

“My major takeaways from DREAM 2022 were that we have a lot of amazing educators in this nation, we still have lots of problems to solve but we shouldn’t give up, and we can learn a lot from our students. I attended a session where a community college had attempted a new grading system in an attempt at reaching for equity. The session forced me to think deeper and to problem solve on concepts I’d never given much thought. I realized that while we’re making progress by continuing to develop the systems in place, we also need to realize that innovation is essential if we want to make life-changing impacts in community college systems. And that begins with a genuine desire to change.”
– Talia Christian, Northeast Lakeview College (TX)

“My takeaway from the conference was how crucial it is to keep connecting with one another. ATD has humbled me and showed me what our voices can do if we share our truths. I hope when you participate in Achieving the Dream the word “possible” comes to mind. I and my amazing DREAM Scholars were living proof of the hard work and dedication from those who we met along our educational journey. No matter the circumstances we are placed in we have been able to overcome them and make the best out of our situations. Tribal colleges are institutions that can provide an education with the right tools and I was able to learn about those tools for Student Success. I am not a DREAM Scholar for myself. I represent the amazing community I am able to live in. I represent our Ilisagvik College and the North Slope.”
– Kalolaine ‘Uhila, Ilisagvik College

We asked:

If you were a college president for one day, what would you do?

They answered:

“As a college president, would embed myself into the student population by sitting down with the student body by making an effort to increase the amount of time spent engaging with students and faculty, and addressing the largest areas of weakness that faculty are seeing in the barriers their students are facing.”
– Cyan Hite

“If I were president of a college, I would make sure there were more inclusive clubs and programs  that  build community and make people of different skin  tones, backgrounds and ethnicities feel safe and welcomed.”
– Ashley Valdez-Ibarra

“I would have open lunch with students that are right on the line of being excused from campus.”
– Zennia Nesmith

“I already work as a student ambassador in the President’s Office at my school, so I would do my daily tasks and spend time each day walking around campus talking to students for an hour. However, if I were president for one year, I would put an intense amount of focus on understanding and communicating with the most involved students, faculty, and staff and host convenings that keep them in close contact with each other.”
– Talia Christian

“I would let them know who I am and where I came from. For the President of ATD to say that there is more to be done, that is a humble leader. I would encourage our students, staff, and faculty to see everyone with the potential that they have of becoming who they envision themselves to be. No one is better than another. We should all be working together to achieve our goals.”
 – Kalolaine ‘Uhila

“I would make it a point to walk the halls daily to have a more personal interaction with the students.”
– Brandon Woodall

“I would try to utilize the actions presented from other colleges such as transparency about their work, but structure it as largely student-run, because students know the best about other students. I would also like more of a dialogue between students and faculty about this work.”
– Diego Horisberger

“As college president, I would want to ensure that students knew of every opportunity that was available to them. Sometimes what a student is able to accomplish is dependent on if others have knowledge of that opportunity, believe it is possible, or if others go out of their way to make it possible.”
– Adrian Bell

Learn more about the 2022 DREAM Scholars here, or listen to them tell their own stories through their “I Am From” poems.

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