College adviser to Dreamers: Leverage strengths, get creative

Michelle Tarigo Channel offers step-by-step tips on pursuing college

Michelle Tarigo Channel describes herself as "first generation everything," growing up in a working class, immigrant family in Menlo Park next to what used to be known as "Whiskey Gulch" and is now the Four Seasons Hotel.

Education was highly valued in Channel's household, even though her parents, immigrants from Italy and Peru, had not attended college.

"College was essentially the expectation for me," she said, and even though she had the advantage of U.S. citizenship, her path was not without its bumps.

Attending a local K-8 private school with affluent classmates, Channel experienced stigma, mistreatment and alienation. In her school friends' large houses, she would "literally get lost." She was often made fun of for showing up to school in her father's gardening truck.

"I felt that I was not playing on a level playing field," she said.

Despite social stress, Channel excelled academically. Education was always where "I could put my stake in the ground," she said. Her identity, status and confidence were bolstered by her academic achievements.

Channel attended Menlo-Atherton High School, and went on to UCLA, where she received a bachelor's degree in sociology, and later University of California, Berkeley to get a master's degree in education. Channel was supported on her path to and through college by President of California STEM Learning Network Christopher Roe and Pacific Educational Group Founder Glenn Singleton, who at the time were developing a college-prep program that later became the nonprofit Foundation for a College Education (FCE).

After a short stint in high tech, Channel decided to shift focus to the nonprofit sector and for five years worked at FCE as one of its college-bound counselors.

"I went to find work I believed in," she said.

In 2008, Channel launched her own educational consulting service and still works with FCE as well as other local nonprofit college-access organizations.

"My focus is underrepresented students and parents in navigating a path to and through college," she said.

Channel shared with the Weekly key steps she follows in counseling undocumented students pursuing college.

Step 1: Identify the assets and strengths that students and their families possess. This helps set the tone for empowerment.

Step 2: Show compassion; validate their experience as a very challenging one.

Step 3: Move into goal-setting mode. Explore what a student envisions as his or her desired outcome, regardless of roadblocks.

Step 4: Come up with a plan -- "a roadmap" -- for achieving the student's desired outcome, which may not be "a straight shot." Be very transparent, honest and realistic in this process. Help students anticipate problems that might arise and options for addressing them. Create a "toolkit" of resources to deal with contingencies, including a list of supportive people and organizations. (See "Organizations, resources supporting undocumented youth")

Step 5: Figure out "life lines" when events discourage the student. "A bad day can get you derailed," she said. "Who are you going to call when you need a pick me up?"

According to Channel, the biggest challenges in this process are:

Separating myth from fact: Have a conversation with the student early on about what college-related messages are being heard from family, school and/or peers. Flesh out false myths, of which there are many, and begin to dispel untruths with accurate information. For example: "Financial aid and scholarships are available for undocumented students. There is money out there!"

Identifying allies at school or in the community: Help students identify safe, supportive adults, clubs or programs at school or in the community that can provide needed information and support, and encourage students to reach out to these resources. Peer support is also key. Remind students that they are not alone; there are many others are in a similar position; and there are many undocumented young adults who have made it to college and have successfully graduated.

Financing college:

• Keep up on developments; a growing number of new laws, programs and scholarships are being created to help support Dreamers. Don't miss out on the latest.

• Begin to think outside the box. Consider colleges in a community where a relative lives, and explore the idea of living with the relative to save expenses. Choose a Dreamer-friendly school -- Channel's list includes the University of California campuses at Merced, Riverside and Santa Cruz and the California State University campuses at Fullerton and Northridge -- where students will find financial and social support through paid internships and other programs.

• Think through available social capital. Identify people the student already knows who may be able to help financially or who may be able to connect the student to other funding resources. This could be the parent's employer, the school principal, faith leaders or community program staff. Think about creative strategies like writing a letter of appeal to fellow church members, attaching a portfolio of grades, letters of recommendations and personal essay. Explore websites like or Take every opportunity to put the need for help out there in ways that feel safe and use social connections.


Read more:

Growing up undocumented

Undocumented immigrants: key statistics

Pursuing the rocky path to college

Organizations, resources supporting undocumented youth

Undocumented youth describe migration to U.S.

Federal and state laws expand opportunities for Dreamers

The Dreamer social movement

Educators discuss undocumented youths' challenges, resilience

A safe haven to dream


Also find these and other stories on our Storify page

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