Each year, Achieving the Dream selects eight community college students to participate in an immersive learning experience at DREAM, our annual convening. Chosen through a rigorous application process, DREAM Scholars are outstanding students with diverse stories who bring their voices center stage and learn alongside higher education leaders throughout the conference.
This year’s DREAM Scholars have all been told stories at some point in their lives — whether by family members, peers, teachers, or societal expectations — that they were not meant for higher education. But they are each determined to write a different story.
We are pleased to introduce you to this year’s cohort of outstanding students, leaders, and advocates, and just as excited to hear from them at DREAM this February.Have you registered for DREAM? Plan your experience
Gateway to College at Laney College (CA)
“Without this idea that one can build themselves stronger than before or learn from their mistakes, I would not be the person I am today.”
For Zachary, life is all about reinvention. At only 18, he has already experienced many reinventions as a foster youth, “southern California street kid,” sponsored skater, recovering addict, and now, college student. When he found the stability he needed to succeed in the second half of high school, he pushed himself to catch up academically and to seek out mentors who could support him on a path of constant reinvention.
He began taking classes at Laney College through the Gateway to College program, and now studies there full-time. He aspires to be a charge nurse in the ER where he can not only perform a vital role in the healthcare system, but also challenge gendered stereotypes about the profession while expanding representation for Latinos in nursing. Throughout his youth, Zack has had opportunities to believe a story that his obstacles were greater than his goals. But through maintaining a growth mindset and intentionally building a community of support, he has begun to tell a different story, and to share it with the world.
Luis De Luna
MiraCosta College (CA)
“To this day I still struggle with the idea that I am capable and deserving, but the path I set upon will always remain for me to follow no matter how many times I fall.”
Luis grew up in an economically marginalized neighborhood in California, where the lack of investment in students made Luis believe he was destined not to finish high school. That story didn’t change when he transferred to a higher-income school district, where teachers and peers did not believe he could succeed. Even when he got into college, Luis struggled to believe in his own success — he floundered in his first year and low grades prevented him from returning.
Disheartened and depressed, Luis decided to give higher education one more shot and enrolled in MiraCosta college. In his first semester there, he received his first A — the feeling was “euphoric.” From then on, the old story he was told about himself began to fade away. His new story includes a love of learning, specifically the sciences, and a passion for biochemistry. Luis is now pursuing a B.S. in biomanufacturing and aims to earn a doctorate from UC San Diego so that he can either return to MiraCosta as a professor or research treatments for currently incurable diseases. Whichever path his story takes, his ultimate goal is to become an inspiration for Latino students like himself and to break the narrative that education is not for them.
Tallahassee Community College (FL)
“Enrolling in TCC is by far one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. While I still have juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, it doesn’t have me.”
As a freshman in high school, Tommy was diagnosed with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy. The condition caused multiple recurrent seizures throughout adolescence and affected his speech. Tommy’s self-esteem took a hit, and he felt robbed of his independence during a time in life when his peers were beginning to find theirs.
During his senior year, he opted to enroll in Tallahassee Community College to stay closer to home. He applied for and was accepted to TCC’s Scholar program, an opportunity that allowed him to attend classes over the summer and earn a six-credit scholarship. For Tommy, TCC was an environment where he could thrive. He is a member of the Black Male Achievers program and is currently president of the student government association, where he is working to build and develop the college’s clubs and associations to foster a sense of belonging for more students on campus.
Roane State Community College (TN)
“I believe human connections and empowering one another are two of the most important things us humans need. It makes us all more likely to succeed. We are stronger together.”
Eve grew up in an environment that she describes as highly patriarchal, isolated, and sheltered. Despite being taught from a young age that she would never have an education or career, she became the first in her family to graduate college. This new chapter in her life has been challenging — having grown up homeschooled, she found interacting with new people difficult, and she entered higher education without a support system.
But Eve is determined to write a new story for herself. She is studying to become a chemical engineer and recently won Roane State’s General Chemistry Award. She has also had the opportunity to speak to the college’s presidential cabinet, an opportunity that helped her see the difference she can make for her college and for the world. Eve plans to pursue a career in chemical engineering that allows her to help preserve the planet, and is starting her own eco-friendly candle company. She recognizes that she is entering a male-dominated field, but her new story is about finding success through perseverance and creating opportunities for support and connection in her college community.
Housatonic Community College (CT)
“The chance to positively impact my community is one of my biggest goals. Helping to recognize, address, and solve issues or simply being a role model to other students like me makes all my struggles and resilience worth it.”
Vitória’s family immigrated to the United States from Brazil when she was in high school. The move was harder than she ever could have expected; as a new English learner, she faced frequent discrimination from her peers and constant doubt that she was intelligent or capable enough to succeed in school. In her senior year she suffered a panic attack, and was fortunate that her psychology teacher recognized the signs, helped her find ways to manage stress, and even awoke a passion for mental health advocacy that Vitória continues to pursue today.
After several failed attempts to secure financial aid for college, Vitória eventually received a full scholarship from the Housatonic Community College Foundation. She’s currently a psychology major with a vision to enter the medical field as a psychiatrist. Her perseverance, and willingness to advocate for herself resulted in her being selected to participate in the 2022 Yale Summer Enrichment Medical Academy, an opportunity that has expanded her sense of what’s possible in the next chapters of her story.
Tena Rynn Quackenbush
Western Technical College (WI)
“It has always been my motto, even as a little girl, to change this world. Today I am changing this world.”
Tena, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, is ten years sober. Since she entered recovery, she has made it her mission to help people struggling with addiction get the resources and support they need, and to dismantle the pervasive stigma surrounding substance use. Tena herself received judgment and criticism from within her community even after she got clean — those experiences inspired her to start her own foundation, #StopTheStigma of Addiction.
Tena’s work centers on harm reduction; she facilitates naloxone trainings and support groups, striving to connect clients to essential services as quickly as possible. She hopes to create a mobile detoxing unit that can fill in some of the significant gaps left by the healthcare system in caring for rural and Indigenous communities. To further her calling to save and change lives, she is pursuing a degree in nursing. She wants to show others battling addiction, through the care she provides and the example she sets, that their stories are still worth rewriting.
Kingsborough Community College (NY)
“I want my daughter to know that she can accomplish more than she can ever imagine.”
Nikki is a wife and mother who was told from an early age that she should prioritize family over education. Her spouse discouraged her from pursuing a higher education, but when she found a flexible online program through Kingsborough, she didn’t let anyone stop her from enrolling.
In 2021, Nikki experienced a severe case of retinal detachment which left her with permanent physical and learning disabilities. She has had to adopt new learning methods, like using audiobooks to read her course materials, but is no less determined to complete her degree. She is currently president of the Student Government Association at Kingsborough. She is also a delegate at the University Senate, where she uses her role to spread awareness about mental health and to create more support for students.
Institute of American Indian Arts (NM)
“A large majority of folks in my community live at or below the poverty line. Improving our financial well-being as a community and being able to uplift one another in the process is something to strive for.”
Sareya never felt like just another student at the predominantly white schools she grew up in — instead, she was too often the “token Indian.” In high school she joined the Future Inspired Native American Leaders Youth Council, and while she initially struggled with her sense of identity as a Native student, being part of the youth council soon helped her gain confidence in herself and connection with her community.
Like many students who graduated high school during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sareya’s story includes tragedy. She lost loved ones and important members of her tribal community, and was in a constant state of mourning and anger. Determined to change the story, she soon took a leadership role raising money to buy resources for her tribe like water, diapers, and books. When she was invited to join the International Indigenous Youth Council, she helped raise funds to distribute personal protection equipment and other essentials for different tribes. Now at IAIA, she is studying creative writing and poetry, and is passionate about the positive impact writing can have on individual and community healing.
Learn more about the DREAM Scholars program, including information about past cohorts, program details, and opportunities to support the Scholars.Learn More