Dream Summit 2020

Summit 2020 | Dream Project

An overview of our biggest event of the year for our scholars.

Written by: Carlos Puerta

At the beginning of January, we began preparation for the annual Dream Summit. The plan was to take all of the best aspects from the very successful 2019 summit and to expand on them. In mid-march, as COVID-19 spread, we started to wonder if it would affect our plans. I write seven months into the pandemic and in lockdown, I can proudly say that we were able to adjust, adapt, and overcome. The result? An extremely successful and record breaking Summit. I present to you the 2020 Dream Summit.

Changes to the Formula

Due to the pandemic, an in-person summit was a non-starter. Instead of cancelling it, we decided to go virtual. We thought: Would students want to sit through an 8 hour webinar? We didn’t think that was the case. This meant that we had to remove some of the initially planned workshops and change the delivery method to make it a successful program. So, we re-evaluated and picked the most important ones, added a new one (Engaging in Distance Learning), and decided to have a Dream Summit week. The Summit Week now would feature a different webinar every night; and to stay true to our strategic plan (read about our strategic plan here), we even added a unique track for our students’ parents to participate. The Dream Summit is now an event for both our students and their parents.


The Summit Week

We opened the summit with a ceremony designed to engage all of our students in a brief game night. Together, we talked about what the remainder of the week would look like and how to use the platform.We also took this opportunity to answer any questions from the students. The remainder of the week was simple and straightforward. Eighty-two out of 100 students joined at least one session during the week—over double the 2019 Summit’s attendance.

2020 Workshop Ratings

I know what you’re thinking—the attendance numbers are lower than some of the responses. Well remember how I said we were experimenting with webinars? We did not have a robust system to check attendance, and as a result, there are a few discrepancies. We were quite conservative with the attendance numbers that we did gather; chances are that some students fell through the cracks, and our attendance was actually greater than we have record of—unfortunate but I don’t think it takes away from the overall data.

Summit Assessment

Aside from rating the workshops, how do we know whether these workshops workshops are having a real impact on our students’ lives? We want our students’ lives to change as a result of the summit—ambitious we know, but hear me out because we might have just succeeded.

The setup

As part of the scholarship award process, students looking to receive the Dream Project scholarship are asked for an in-person interview. Students who decide to take this opportunity schedule a time and day that works for them to interview. In preparation for the interview, students answer 21 statements unrelated to the scholarship. These statements look at things that we hope to change with our summit, and we ask it this early because it is easy for the students to complete everything in one go—as opposed to reaching out months later with another request. Students are told to answer truthfully and to the best of their ability as their answers will not be considered by the committee.

For returning scholars, the set-up is a bit different. After they receive notice of their scholarship renewal, students are asked to fill out an acceptance form, and it is at this time when they complete the assessment.

For the post-test, students who attended the summit were sent a follow-up email where we asked them to take a brief assessment and rate the workshops they attended. Because of this, the data pool of the pre-test is over double the size as the data pool of the post-test. However, most comparisons are paired to see individual changes and unpaired data was omitted.

The assessment

Below are the 21 statements given to students. All statements were rated from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree”.

  • I feel hopeful about my future.
  • I will be successful in the United States.
  • I will be happy.
  • I care about my community.
  • I am important to my community.
  • I can rely on my community.
  • I know where to look for help when I have an issue.
  • I have people who I can count on.
  • I will not succeed in college.
  • With a college degree, my life in the U.S. will improve.
  • My story is important and has value.
  • I have the power to help others by sharing my experiences.
  • I am familiar with immigration laws.
  • My immigration status will inevitably lead to failure.
  • I know where to find help when I am challenged by my status.
  • I can manage my emotions well.
  • I do not know many ways to deal with stress.
  • There are a lot of people who are in my situation.
  • Nobody understands my situation.
  • I am confident about financing my education.
  • I do not know how I will pay for college.

Significant Events

The time frame for data collection varied greatly: new scholars taking the pre-test in February while returning scholars completed it in May. The post-test was given in late August/early September. This means that the time between re-testing was 6 months for new scholars and 3 months for returning scholars. While this normally wouldn’t be a huge issue, Coronavirus came into play after the new students took the pre-test but before the returning scholars did, and by the time both groups re-tested, we were well into a quarantine that nobody had foreseen and that had disproportionately affected our biggest demographic (low-income Latinx immigrants). While that was quite negative, there was also something in motion that will likely prove to change the lives of many. Virginia recently passed legislation which would allow many of our students to receive in-state tuition; something they could not do before. With what essentially works out to be a 60% or more discount on tuition, this could very well come into play in the numbers we will see below.


The following are the questions I will answer through the data collected:

  • How did the numbers change between 2019 and 2020?
  • How does the summit affect new vs. returning scholars?
  • Was the 2020 Summit an improvement over the 2019 Summit?

I will also speculate about why some of the numbers look the way they did. But without further ado, let’s jump in!

How did the numbers change between 2019 and 2020?

Out of all 21 statements, there are 7 which where statistically significant. Of these 7 statements, I would categorize 4 of them under “community resources” (I can rely on my community; I know where to find help when I am challenged by my status; I am confident about financing my education; I do not know how I will pay for college). These four statements directly gauge how much knowledge students have about community resources; the more knowledge they have, the stronger they should agree or disagree with the statements. The majority of the summit focuses on community resources and availability. From offering our students attorneys, to putting them in contact with community leaders, we really strive to connect our students with our community and the resources we have. To this end, it is no surprise the numbers increased in this area. However, there are other factors that could have affected these numbers, the in-state tuition law, or perhaps our new outreach as a result of the pandemic. It is difficult to decipher exactly what generated this change, but in the next section I will provide some more insight.

How does the summit affect new vs. returning scholars?

The biggest gripe voiced by returning scholars is that once you've been to one summit you've been to them all. The feeling is that we are not offering much to those returning; if they went once, they are not going to get much out of the second time. We absolutely hear these concerns, and while we try to cater some content to those returning, it is incredibly difficult. To this end, how did we do with returning scholars? What about the new ones? Separating the data, and then comparing the pre and post scores are quite eye opening to say the least. Check this out because here's where things start to get interesting.

New Scholars

I'll start by going over how the Summit affects the new scholars. Interestingly enough, none of the changes observed were negative—everything appears to have moved in a positive direction. While you are free to read the specific statements and questions below, it is clear that the Dream Summit was able to expose new resources and open community avenues that students were not aware of; they felt understood as part of a community and knew where to find help. While we would have loved to see an overall change in the students' outlook on their future (e.g. increase in scores for statements like "I feel hopeful about my future"), we can say that the Dream Summit succeded in connecting students to resources with the community. I can also speculate about the in-state tuition law and its effects. These effects should perhaps show up most apparent in statements with regards to paying for school ("I am confident about financing my education" & "I do not know how I will pay for college"); and that is in fact the case. The scores for these two statements moved by over a point in a positive direction; that is a massive change—our financial workshop leveraged this new legislation in order to deliver an extremely influential and powerful workshop.

Pre-test vs. Post-test (New Students)

Significant differences between pre-test and post-test scrores in new scholars (N = 16).

Returning Scholars

The story for returning scholars can be both encouraging and discouraging, and it really depends on how we look at the data. There was only one significant change between the pre and post test: "With a college degree, my life in the U.S. will improve". With a slight decrease in the scores for that statement, we can consider this a step backwards; but I already briefly touched on this.

Pre-test vs. Post-test (Returning Students)

Significant differences between pre-test and post-test scrores in returning scholars (N = 30).

I think there's much more interesting things to be said about the returning scholars. Why is there seemingly no effect? For one, they are all already in college and financing their education. One could assume that the new legislation would not really have that much effect; after all, they're already in and have things figured out, right? This may explain why we don't see increases there. But why aren't they feeling more connected to their community? Given that both new scholars and returning scholars and nearly identical demographically, the effects should remain relatively equal; so why? To answer this question, I want you to look at a comparison of the returning scholars pre-test with the new scholars post-test.

When making this comparison we start to see what is happening. There were only two significant differences: "Nobody understands my situation" and "I am confident about financing my education." For the first statement, it is likely that we are seeing the effect of our new case manager, who has been working 1 on 1 with our scholars (primarily with the new ones). The second statement is, as I stated, likely due to the fact that new students are more likely to benefit from information about how to pay for school, since they have not started. Aside from those two statements, there were no differences between the returning scholars pre-test and the new scholars post-test. In other words, new scholars were in a sense "being brought up to speed" with the returning scholars. This only applies to the significant statements observed in 2019 vs. 2020, but for those statements it seems there was no effect for returning scholars, while the new scholars "caught up". This means two things, the first being that we are unable to see any significant impact for our returning scholars, which supports the claim that after you've been to one summit, you've been to them all. While we have yet to find a way to engage returning scholars like new scholars, it is also very possible that the assessment is unable to detect the effects it is having on returning scholars. The silver lining is that once our students have been to one summit they walk away with tools that serve them indefinitely—the Dream Summit is having a lasting impact.

Returning Scholars vs. New Scholars

Average difference between returning scholar's pre-test and new scholars's post-test.

Was the 2020 Summit an improvement over the 2019 Summit?

In most ways, yes. While we had to rethink what the Dream Summit was and make many compromises, we were able to execute a beautiful plan that was impactful and meaningful for our Dream Project families. This, paired with record breaking attendance, made it the best summit yet—and with this newly gained insight, 2021 is going to be even better.

Full tables

In case you're curious, below are the full tables for new and returning scholars.

Full table: Pre-test vs. Post-test (New Students)

Significant differences between pre-test and post-test scrores in new scholars (N = 16).

Full table: Pre-test vs. Post-test (Returning Students)

Significant differences between pre-test and post-test scrores in returning scholars (N = 30).