Monica Casarin is a student at the University of Memphis. Jackie Rodriguez is the Program Coordinator for the First Scholars Program at the University of Memphis.
I am a freshman at the University of Memphis, majoring in health studies with a health science concentration. I’m also a DACA recipient. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, but raised in Memphis since I was one. I identify as a proud American since this is the country where I grew up, the only country I have a clear memory of and love.
Courage and hope were the main components that aided me to not be scared. These simple words motivated me to create an image for myself through academics and professional and social relationships, so people would not be able to identify me as “Monica the Outsider” or even worse “Monica the Alien.”
Regardless of the labels, I have contributed and want to continue contributing to my country. I have volunteered at my local YMCA’s summer camp to help care for children. I am volunteering at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital spending time with patients so they can possibly forget, if only for just a second, that they are a patient. My plans after college are to enter a physician’s assistant (PA) program to be a trauma PA in a major hospital in the United States. I want to make people feel better, I want to heal them.
I am a Dreamer and I want to help people in my home — the U.S. — without worrying that one day I will no longer have that opportunity.
I first met Monica as her instructor for ACAD 1100, an intro course to the University of Memphis. She was one of 20 Opportunity Scholars I volunteered to work with as part of a living and learning community for their specific cohort. In my role at the university, I have worked over seven years now as a program and scholarship coordinator for enrolled freshmen, alumni clubs and chapters and as the First Scholars/first-generation Program Coordinator. When I first heard that the U of M would be taking on a scholarship program with Equal Chance for Education called Opportunity Scholars, I was eager to volunteer in any capacity.
My husband and I have worked since 1999 to help develop programming on campus for the Hispanic and Latino community including the establishment of the Hispanic Student Association and the Hispanic Alumni Council and its scholarships, so anytime that I can help create new opportunities for students, I am happy to do so.
Through my work with Monica and the other Opportunity Scholars, I have seen their dedication, their strength and their ongoing struggle to be recognized for more than just their DACA status. These students are testaments to resiliency and they embody all of the qualities that we as campus administrators look for in successful students and engaged alumni. The only difference that I see in them is that they have to work twice as hard at everything and maintain higher standards in academics and involvement than their fellow student counterparts. Nothing is taken for granted, nothing is assumed.
Dreamers are inspiring to me and to my other students because they meet every standard that has been placed upon them. Monica continues to work with not only her cohort, but her peers on campus to engage and involve the campus community. I believe that she and others will continue to create a more inclusive and diverse landscape at the university, which can only move all of us forward.