From L.A. to D.C. – Becoming an Advocate for College Access

Photo: Stephanie outside of California State Senator Kamala Harris’ office in Washington, D.C.

Stephanie Ortiz, junior at Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School and 2018-19 Partnership Lundquist Fellow, recently had an eye-opening experience. In early February, she was one of four Lundquist Fellows who participated in the two-day National College Access Network (NCAN) convening in Washington, D.C., where she realized that she can influence federal legislation.

During the convening, Stephanie had the opportunity to speak with staff from California Senator Kamala Harris’ office and Congressman Jimmy Gomez’s office. “I didn’t think I could make a change for things that affect us now, especially regarding FAFSA. It was great to share my experiences,” she says. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which provides college grants, loans, and work-study funds to prospective college students. Meeting with her representatives’ staff members made her feel heard and understood, and she felt comfortable sharing her story. Stephanie understands and values this opportunity because she is an undocumented student – a.k.a. a Dreamer – who is not eligible to apply for FAFSA. She will apply to the California Dream Act Application, which is another form of financial aid in California that is offered to undocumented students in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) program.

As a Lundquist Fellow, Stephanie was able to share her voice in D.C. and learned to advocate for better college access legislation with Congress. Along with other Partnership students and staff, Stephanie joined about 130 other college access practitioners and high school and college students from 25 states to learn about barriers to college access that could be significantly improved with proper federal legislation. Being able to advocate for something that matters to her was a powerful experience. Stephanie plans to be the first in her family to go to college. Her dream is to attend Stanford University and pursue a double major in politics and neurobiology.

Back in Los Angeles, Stephanie is sharing her newfound knowledge with her peers, who were unaware of the impact FAFSA could have on undocumented students’ college dreams. She feels proud to have created awareness amongst her classmates, especially now that she has advocated for a more inclusive FAFSA in Washington, D.C. Currently, Stephanie is involved in the California Youth and Government Model Legislation and Court Program, where she is a part of creating mock systems change in government. She believes that being exposed to this program and past leadership positions [she is a former YMCA teen board member] helped her have the confidence to communicate and advocate for changes to the FAFSA form with her representatives.

About the Partnership’s Lundquist Fellows Program

The Lundquist Fellow program was founded in honor of Melanie and Richard Lundquist, co-founders of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. This year-long program seeks to reward students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to their schools, education, and communities. Students have the opportunity to participate in the Partnership’s Student Advisory Board, visit college campuses and/or attend a skills-based conference, among various Partnership events and a culminating program ceremony. Lundquist Fellows receive a $500 scholarship when they successfully complete the program. For more information, email Sima.Alimadadian@partnershipla.org.