Students at Western Oregon University on April 17 introduced “Alma’s Project,” a new website that comprises comprehensive resources for students and community members enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The website is packed with information to support the academic, psychological and social lives of DACA students at WOU and beyond. There is a lengthy list of campus, local and statewide organizations geared toward immigrant populations as well as resources for financial support for a college education. Faculty members, employees and community members can learn ways on the site to support DACA youths as well.
Rubi Tapia ’18 was the project manager for the website, which was named for WOU’s student body president, Alma Pacheco, who died unexpectedly in December. Pacheco had suggested a similar site as a project in Professor Emily Plec’s Communications & Social Change course last fall, and Plec wanted to honor her memory by bringing the site to fruition. She offered it as a potential project for a class she taught winter term, and several students, including Tapia, accepted the challenge.
“I decided to focus on this project mainly because I knew Alma and I know a lot of students who are DACA students,” Tapia said. “It’s a big topic today, so I really felt it was necessary to be part of this project that could help incoming college students. There aren’t a lot of resources for undocumented students.”
As project manager, Tapia oversaw three teams that each focused on one part of the site. There was an immigration policy team, a psychological support team and a social resource team. Juan Navarro ’17 headed the immigration policy group, which did extensive research on the subject. He also served as volunteer coordinator, getting people organized to maximize work efforts.
“I loved the idea (of the project) and always wanted to something like this with Unidos Club to raise awareness to undocumented students that they do have hope,” Navarro said.
Outreach was an integral part of the building process. Tapia connected with the campus community for assistance and feedback.
“I went to a couple clubs and organizations to talk to them about the project to get the word out there,” she said. “I tried to get all their help and support. For the most part, community organizations were really friendly and willing to lend a hand with any resource or information.”
Once the site developers had a rough outline of the DACA website and the information that would go on it, they polled high school students for honest feedback. The Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Conference in early March offered the perfect opportunity because incoming students are one of the site’s primary audiences.
“(The students) told us what they would like to see and what they would be looking for when they went and searched this webpage,” Tapia explained. “They suggested making it more personal, with more background about where the idea came from. They suggested we add more pictures to make it more welcoming.”
Plec said the students were particularly interested in the section that covered scholarship opportunities, and they gave the site high marks for functionality and organization.
After revisiting the website to address the high school students’ suggestions about design and content, the teams fine-tuned both for a few more weeks. The final project was revealed in April, but Tapia says she doesn’t know whether it can really be finished.
“This is such a big project,” she said. “There were a lot of students helping with it, but things are changing so quickly these days. It could be a never-ending project.”
Even if the site continues to be adjusted into the future, Plec is proud of students’ work on Alma’s behalf.
“A lot of students benefit from having information and support to help them navigate college,” Plec said. “Because it was designed and developed by students, it has a lot of the information they feel is important.”
Navarro said he wished he’d had a resource like the DACA website when he was investigating universities.
“I can speak for myself that if I had this when I was thinking of college, it would have been that much easier. I know that it will give hope to undocumented students that college is possible,” he said.
Both Tapia and Navarro believe Alma would be excited to see her idea become reality, and they said the effort is a reflection of the welcoming nature of the WOU campus.
“The project just speaks to who she was,” Tapia said. “She was a really dedicated student, and she really wanted to help her community out. It was something that was really important for her. We are a very welcoming campus, and we are a very diverse campus. So we always do our best to welcome everyone regardless of their background or where they come from or who they are.”
Navarro agrees. “This site will help the public by showing that WOU does care about all of its students. Alma and I were close, which makes this personal — trying to complete her dreams to honor her. My only hope is that she is happy that her project is complete.”
Find the “Alma’s Project” resource site at wou.edu/DACA