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UIC engineering students create resource for the undocumented community

undocwiki logo

Navigating the web of resources available to high schoolers considering college can be difficult: from financial and academic support to other types of aid. For undocumented students, the challenges can seem insurmountable. It’s estimated that each year, only 5-10% of the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools attend college, in part due to these hurdles.

A group of undergraduate engineering students, who are part of the National Science Foundation Scholarship STEM program, set out to address this issue, one that affects the community surrounding UIC. The group includes four computer science students: Kaylynn Arrington, Jessica Borowy, Tosan Egbesemirone, and Andrea Herrera; and Josh Bustos, an industrial engineering major.

“We identified the problem and used our engineering knowledge to address it,” said Egbesemirone. “We became the first student-led initiative in the nation to build together an online resource for the undocumented community.”

The group created a website, UndocWiki, to serve as a hub for all Illinois resources available to undocumented students and their families. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the group realized the need for this information was even greater. The site launched in April, 2021, and lists everything from scholarships to mental health resources, student aid, legal aid, community centers, and more. Within the first three days that the site was live, it had 2,000 page views, and has had 200 unique visitors per month. Through Google translate, the site can be accessible in a student’s first language.

UIC’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Engagement provides funding for the site. Tanya Cabrera, UIC’s assistant vice provost for student inclusion, and Amalia Pallares, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and engagement work with the Undocwiki team, and the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program, known as LARES, also helps the group with the site.

“We are so proud of the work by this team of scholars, and thankful our department can support them. In pre-COVID 19 conversations, we began to explore a one-stop shop for resources for and by undocumented students, alongside fellow ally peers,” Cabrera said. This initiative sparked several partnerships internally and statewide, to support a virtual platform for the state of Illinois after the passing of HB3438, Undocumented Student Liaison and Undocumented Resource Center, which was signed into law in August.”

While news of most scholarships available to undocumented students were once communicated via word of mouth, these resources are now listed for students to view.

UIC’s Fearless Undocumented Alliance, which supports undocumented students at the university, hosted a fair for incoming college students and all of the two dozen students surveyed found the UndocWiki website extremely useful and would share it with family and friends.

Cabrera helped UndocWiki connect with many community leaders and organizations to spread word about the website. The group is hoping to work with the Chicago Teachers Union and high school counselors in the Chicago Public Schools.

“It really takes a village. We know people feel safe when they get information via word of mouth,” Egbesemirone said.