Ola, born and raised in Sudan, is majoring in biology at Marymount University with plans to become a dentist.  Abandoned by her father, Ola’s mother and older brother became political targets to a ruthless government after her brother participated in an anti-government protest. When her mother and brother were forced to hide from authorities, Ola was left alone at age 12 to care for her younger sister.  Despite this terrifying environment, she graduated from high school and began college in Sudan.   However, a new threat to Ola and her younger sister arose when another family relative attempted to force both sisters to undergo female genital mutilation, a common practice in Sudan, where approximately 90% of females have been subjected to this heinous practice. Ola’s mother refused to force her daughters to undergo this procedure, fleeing Africa and relocating to the United States to protect her children.

In the United States, Ola enrolled in high school to improve her language skills, and she acquired a Dream Project mentor to guide her through the college application process. Through the Dream Project mentoring program, she also gained a support system with other DREAMers who bolstered one another in their quest to earn a college education.  While ineligible for in-state tuition, federal loans or financial aid from public universities due to her undocumented immigrant status, Ola received a partial scholarship from Marymount University, a private Virginia university, which covers a portion of her tuition, but still leaves her with an intimidating debt; additionally, covering the costs of other life expenses remains difficult, because she is prohibited from legal employment until she has gained refugee status — a long, expensive and uncertain process.

Ola’s courage and determination in overcoming the challenges associated with both her past and with her status as an undocumented immigrant, assures us that she will succeed in achieving her educational and career goals.  Her success in pursuing a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career will contribute to and reduce the projected severe shortfall of STEM-qualified workers, benefiting both her and people within her adopted home country.