Important Announcement: 2023 Scholarships

Dear Supporters & Partners,

Over the past 10 years, AEF has awarded over $668,500 in college scholarships, and provided invaluable mentorship to immigrant students in New York City. We are so proud of what we have been able to accomplish with your support and partnership. Our students represent 39 countries. Over 50 of our students have graduated from college, some have become mentors to our newest scholars, delivering on the promise to pay it forward. 

As we reflect on the last ten years, and look forward to the next ten, and beyond, we are embarking on a strategic planning year in 2023. As such, we will not be awarding scholarships in 2023. This was a difficult decision as we know the need is greater than ever. This intentional period to create and execute a bold plan for AEF will allow us to better serve our immigrant community in New York City and beyond. 

For 10 years, AEF has operated as a 100% volunteer organization. It was five immigrant/ child of immigrant women who founded AEF with the goal of helping to elevate our community through higher education. We have achieved our mission with the help of hundreds of volunteers who have read applications, mentored a student, joined our gala committee, and those who have donated their time and resources. Our job is far from complete.

We have big goals for AEF! If you interested in joining our board to help us as we embark on this exciting time of expansion, please email our chairwoman at 

Thank you for your continued support. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress and plans. 

Best Regards, 

AEF Board of Directors.

2020 Annual Review

Our 2020 Annual Review is available here. It was a difficult year as we transitioned to virtual interviews and fundraising but nevertheless we were successful in our eighth scholarship season due to the amazing support of all our donors and the AEF family!

Our 2019 Annual Review is now available!

Our 2019 Annual Review is available here. Thanks to all who made our seventh scholarship season such a huge success. Highlights from 2019 include:

  • Selected nine scholars, representing Nigeria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Haiti, Senegal, Guyana, Suriname, and Russia
  • Awarded a total of $61,500 in scholarships, or 92% of funds raised
  • Utilized a grant from Immigrants Rising to create a strategic vision and fundraising plan in order to take AEF to the next level
  • Partnered with Grammy-Award winning Latin Artist, Alejandro Sanz, Immigrants Rising, and Dream Big Nevada on a t-shirt campaign to raise funds for all three organizations
  • Hosted the annual career readiness workshop in partnership with New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) with twenty students and ten AEF volunteers interacting throughout the day
  • Hosted our sixth annual gala and raised over $8,000 from the silent auction alone

Support AEF’s Work! 

Welcome our 2019 Scholars!

We are thrilled to introduce our nine 2019 AEF Scholars!  Each of them embody the diverse immigrant community in New York City and represent Nigeria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Haiti, Senegal, Guyana, Suriname, and Russia. Read more about our scholars’ stories here.

Thanks to your generous support, we were able to award $61,500 in college scholarship awards for 2019.  We would like to thank our Selection Committee for reading over 700 applications, and interviewing 25 finalists before selecting our 2019 AEF Scholars. 

About Our 2019 AEF Scholars

This scholar from Mexico cannot be defined by a simple description. Hailing from Chinese parents and fluent in English, Spanish, and Chinese, she is the bridge between multiple immigrant groups in her high school and is a vocal champion of inclusiveness and diversity. With her gregarious and energetic nature, one would never guess that she immigrated to the US only five years ago. In that time, this scholar has left her mark on her community by volunteering at the Neuroscience Lab at Hunter College, by improving the life of her peers while on student government, and leading as a member of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. On a recent visit to Washington D.C. for a conference on current political and social issues, she met several House of Representatives members. In the fall, this Rita Amin Educational Scholar will attend Georgetown University where she plans to major in Business.

This scholar from Bangladesh came to the US with his family seven years ago to seek asylum and pursue a better life. Since his arrival, he has found countless ways to uplift others through his personal talents and community service. He has used his photography to raise awareness and engineering skills to take action. As an avid photographer, he uses his lens to capture members of his community and empower them by taking pictures that help to break stereotypes. After experiencing severe back pain from constantly carrying his camera equipment, this scholar has used his engineering skills to create a prototype backpack with pressure controlled straps to help students better handle their daily load. Whether he decides to pursue the arts, engineering or both, this scholar will find his path at New York University.

A young woman from Nigeria who immigrated just two years ago with an infectious enthusiasm, this scholar demonstrates a strong commitment to engage her community and advocate for change. In order to improve her English-speaking and communication skills, she stepped out of her comfort zone and joined the Debate team, which taught her courage, to never underestimate yourself, or to over think situations. As a member of her school’s Climate Club, she traveled to the Catskills with young, positive-minded people to discuss ways to slow down the impact of climate change, and she educates her peers at school on recycling and other solutions. She does not like to procrastinate and is always early to start her assignments, even with a two hour daily commute to her high school. This Isela Carlos Achievement Scholar will attend the Borough of Manhattan Community College and plans to become a nurse.

Born in Senegal and raised through experiences in Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, this scholar made his biggest and most difficult transition to America just two years ago. With only the support of an older brother, he has excelled both in and out of school. This scholar’s dedication to serving others led him to an internship with Columbia University, enabling him to support his community by translating English to French and Mooré. He also earned entry into the prestigious Cooper Union STEM to STEAM Summer program and the Design Initiative for Community Empowerment Program at Pratt Institute. Through these experiences, he fell in love with engineering and architecture and plans to attend Guttman Community Collegein the fall and transfer to a top architecture program at a 4-year college.

This scholar, whose parents hail from Guyana and Suriname, has clear designs on effecting systemic change at a national and international level for immigration reform. When she is not planning her path towards law, you can find this scholar displaying her talents in both the arts and sciences. In 2018 she placed 2nd in NYC and 8th in NY State in the Science Olympiad. She is equally at home in the theater, where she served as the overall director of a 200-member, 100% student-run production of the musical S!NG. Her role ranged from writing the entire script to casting and overseeing the success of the production, which she handled with aplomb. Her leadership and energy will serve this Dr. Sampat & Dr. Udaya Shivangi Scholar well as she heads to Harvard University in the fall where she plans to major in Government.

This scholar who immigrated from Mexico at the age of five has never let his immigration status define him. He is known around his school as the college process guru and openly shares any resources and tips with his classmates. He wasn’t allowed to compete with his crew team as he did not know how to swim- a fear he’d had for many years. He faced it head on and competed in his first meet this year. While he is a leader in student council and the Gay-Straight Alliance, he also works two jobs as a busboy and maintenance worker. His hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed by his teachers and peers. As a young man from the Bronx with DACA, he wants to inspire others to pursue their dreams. This Dos Rayas Perseverance Scholar will attend Middlebury College where he plans to major in Engineering.

This scholar whose mother fled the former USSR due to religious persecution possesses a desire to elevate the community around him and a dedication to better the academic pursuits of his peers. Quick to notice the inequities in the SHSAT testing process in New York City, this scholar founded a tutoring program to teach test-taking skills to low-income minority and immigrant students in his Coney Island neighborhood. A nationally ranked ballroom dancer, he has competed for over 12 years and recently finished 2nd in the nation in his respective dance category. When not tutoring his peers or helping his mother at home with his younger brother, this scholar has interned at Mount Sinai where he discovered his passion to improve aid and healthcare for underrepresented individuals. This Ping Chu Benevolence Scholar plans on studying Public Health and Biology at Dartmouth College.

A young woman whose parents emigrated from Mexico and who is passionate about music and singing, this scholar persevered through English as a Second Language classes and a learning disability that resulted in self-contained classes with 15 students per class. Through music, she has been able to open up, express herself in writing, and has gained confidence with higher self-esteem and an audition for America’s Got Talent, which has also supported her transition into general education classes with her peers. She volunteers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx as part of a Christmas program for cancer patients, and works as a retail associate at T.J. Maxx. This Arthur Li Chasing Excellence Scholar plans to inspire other children by becoming a music teacher and will attend Guttman Community College.

This young man from Haiti is as sharp and focused on his future as he is caring about those around him. He moved to New York two years ago without his only parental support, his father, in order to fulfill his academic potential. In Haiti, he was elected class president in 9th grade and took it upon himself to organize student-led study groups before every midterm to help his classmates bring up their grades. He continues to assist students by tutoring peers in four subjects as they prepare for the rigorous Regents exams. When he is not focusing on others, this scholar gained entry into the prestigious Rockefeller University Summer Neuroscience Program where he fell in love with neuroscience, which he plans to pursue when he enrolls at St. Francis College this fall.Thank you for all of your contributions, including your time and financial commitments. Together, we are elevating our community through higher education and significantly improving these young persons’ lives. 


Celeste, Dan, Diana, Erika, Julissa, Nii Ato, & Rob
AEF Board of Directors

There are volunteer opportunities to share resume writing, interview preparation, and general career readiness tips with all AEF scholars at our annual workshop on Saturday, July 13. If you are interested in participating, please select the link below to receive additional information.

Our 2018 Annual Report is now available!

Our 2018 Annual Review is available here. Thanks to all who made our sixth scholarship season such a huge success. Highlights from 2018 include:

  • Selected ten scholars, representing Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Gambia, Haiti, India, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Pakistan, and Togo
  • Awarded a total of $92,000 in scholarships, or 95% of funds raised
  • Hosted our fifth annual gala and raised over $18,000
  • Received a grant from Immigrants Rising to create AEF’s first strategic plan to set out our medium and long-term goals
  • Celebrated our second class of graduating scholars with individuals graduating from Cornell University, Baruch College, Bard College, Harvard, Princeton, and Union College
  • Our 2014 AEF Scholar, Jin Park became the first DACA student to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Support AEF’s Work! 

Congratulations to our 2018 Scholars!

We are excited to announce our ten 2018 AEF Scholars!  This class of AEF Scholars continues to exemplify the diverse immigrant community in New York City and represent Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Gambia, Haiti, India, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Pakistan, and Togo.  Take a moment to read each of their extraordinary stories below.

About Our 2018 AEF Scholars:

AEF Perseverance Scholarship

This Colombia-Mexican-American young man is graduating with an Advanced Regents Honors diploma. As lead performer in the Honor Guard of Junior R.O.T.C., he served as a mentor to other students in the program and distributed care packages to active duty soldiers. In his own words, he accomplishes everything in the hopes of changing the world, after seeing his parents’ struggle to ensure his access to education. As secretary of Pi Club and his role as programmer developing mobile applications, he has a passion for green technology and quantum computing to develop smart cities. He plans on studying Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

AEF Founders Scholarship

This scholar from the Dominican Republic has a love for math and has spent considerable time researching NYC public school funding issues and advocating for improved and equitable resources across NYC public schools.  He was a member of his high school’s moot court, was an assistant coach on the debate team, and he is graduating with a perfect GPA.  Per his teacher’s “his influence has lead us to frequently refer to our exceptional young men as “the Wyatt’s”, who are collectively a group of students we must keep looking out for to make sure we are providing the best possible educational experience for”.  In the fall, he will attend the University of Pennsylvania where he will major in mathematical economics.

Lia Faith Scholarship

Three years ago, this scholar came to the U.S. from Ethiopia to chase his dream of becoming a doctor. While in Africa, he saw firsthand the effects that commonplace illnesses such as the flu still leave on those less fortunate and as a result he is committed to helping end such suffering. As a student in NYC, he has conducted research at Lehman College, interned with the Bloomberg Arts & Culture program and worked at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Attending Hunter College in the fall as a Pre-Med, we cannot wait to see what is next for this highly engaging and motivated scholar.

Ronaldo Linares Perseverance Award

A young man from Gambia with an unparalleled work ethic, he supports himself through two part-time jobs while also completing his high school coursework and preparing for college. Only in the U.S. for the past 3 years, this scholar is the true definition of hard-work as he splits time working as a security guard and a customer representative at a major bank yet still finding time to play soccer and tutor students at his high school. Pursuing a degree in Biology, this scholar will spend a year at Jefferson Community College before transferring to Cornell University as he strives to become a doctor.

Aurora Rosa Perseverance Scholarship

After the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Haiti this young woman’s family was forced to live in a tent and later to immigrate to the U.S. As a survivor of the earthquake, she believes in living her wildest dreams while aiming for success without waiting for tomorrow. As she settled into a new life in New York, she became a youth leader at a non-profit focused on literacy and helping new Haitian immigrant students enroll in high school. A participant in the Sadie Nash Summer Institute, she developed her leadership skills and is a member of the track & field team. She plans to study biomedical engineering at La Guardia Community College.

Sofia India Scholarship

A young woman from India who immigrated to the US at the age of 12-years-old and due to her English accent and cultural differences she faced bullying in school, but she did not let it stop her from becoming a fierce woman. Seeing the lack of female representation in her advanced math courses, she founded a math club at her school to encourage more participation by women in Calculus classes. She aspires to be a leader in the STEAM industries, where she hopes to change the male-dominated tech industry. She will be attending New York University in the fall.

Lara Family Scholarship

Get this young man from the Ivory Coast talking about his Tribeca Film Festival Grand Prize winning video and his creative ideas for new movies, and you will find his love for the process infectious. He immigrated to the U.S. three years ago and despite facing many challenges, including homelessness, this young man has excelled academically. He finds time to tutor other students in math and history, plays midfield on his school’s soccer team and works 20 hours per week to support himself. In the fall, he will attend Fairfield University where he will major in political science and film production.

AEF Achievement Scholarship

A fierce young woman, who emigrated from Mexico at a young age, she was denied participation in various after-school programs due to her immigration status, but “nevertheless, she persisted,” as she wrote in her essay. Despite being in challenging circumstances herself, she has a passion for helping others and has raised funds for earthquake victims in Mexico, and Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico. This future marketing executive will be attending the University of Pennsylvania this fall.

AEF Board Scholarship

Labeled a “special case,” due a childhood hearing impairment, this fearless young man was forced to teach himself basic literary principles and this experienced fueled his passion to advocate for education equality in the New York high school system. A passionate advocate of social justice, he has stood up against discriminatory rhetoric and has led rallies to fight injustices in his community. He emigrated from Pakistan at a young age and he will be attending University of Rochester in the fall majoring in Political Science.

AEF Board Scholarship

An inspiring young woman who came to the U.S. a few years ago from Togo and despite facing many challenges with her immigration status and living without her parents, she has flourished in her school community. She is an active volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem and says helping children helps her forget her own struggles.  She has conducted research at Columbia University on preterm births and will pursue the beginnings of her Nursing degree at Bronx Community College.

Congratulations to our 2017 Scholars!





We have reached an amazing milestone, for the first time in our five year history, we are awarding $100,000 in college scholarships in a single year! This includes $15,100 raised through our Generosity Campaign. Thanks to the generous contributions of supporters like you, our Advisory Council, the generous grant from E4FC, and the Generosity community, eleven more students will be able to pursue their dream of attending college.

This year, we are pleased to honor two incredible members of the AEF family, Cristela Alonzo and Chef Ronaldo Linares by naming two of our scholarships in their honor.  The Cristela Alonzo Resiliency Award, and the Ronaldo Linares Perseverance award have been awarded to two AEF scholars who fully embody the meaning of the words resilient and perseverance.   Both Cristela and Ronaldo made outstanding contributions to our annual gala and gave generously of their time and talents.

We are thrilled to introduce our eleven 2017 AEF Scholars!  Our eleven 2017 AEF Scholars embody the diverse immigrant community in New York City and represent Bangladesh, China, Gambia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Nepal, and Togo.  Take a moment to read each of their extraordinary stories below.

About Our 2017 AEF Scholars:

  • A young woman from Gambia who escaped child marriage and immigrated to New York at the age of 13. She is passionate about raising awareness about global sexual violence and has raised funds for organizations that relocate girls from dangerous and unstable communities.  Her participation in the Barnard College STEP Program and the MedDocs Program have inspired her to study medicine and women’s studies. Despite her hardship and arriving just four years ago, she is ranked at the top of her senior class and plans to attend Barnard College in the fall.
  • The enthusiastic energy from our 2017 scholar from Togo is infectious. Her first encounter with English was at customs when she landed at JFK, and yet she speaks English with great fluency in the 3 years she’s been in the US. Despite the many hardships and violence she faced in her home country and the US, she is a rising pre-med student attending Skidmore College. Her goal to become a doctor stems from the lack of medical assistance her family received in her country. This Amin Family Educational Scholar dreams of one day going back to build a stronger medical infrastructure in her community.
  • This scholar’s path through life has been enormously difficult: her path from Mexico to the US, family home incidents, and the death of a close friend. She managed all of these stresses and a part time job where she works 23 hours a week while attending high school full time. Therapy and counseling were the driving force of her ability to cope and stay on task. This Sofia India Amin Educational Scholar is inspired to provide the same help she was given by majoring in Psychology and Counseling when she attends Queensborough Community College in the fall.
  • A young woman from Nepal who immigrated to the United States six years ago. The last two years she has interned as a youth activist with the New York Civil Liberties Union and since then donates half of her check to fund a year’s worth of school supplies for disadvantaged children in Nepal. When she was bullied because of her accent, she sought out alliances with the LGBTQ community and helped raise awareness on acceptance and inclusion. She is proud to serve as a mentor to her younger sister, and has learned to overcome her own challenges with hard work and building confidence. This Sanchez Alzate Community Scholar plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and study business management or computer science.
  • A young woman from Bangladesh who immigrated to New York as a young child. In middle school faced with a lack of resources available to navigate the competitive educational system, she founded her own non-profit to provide resources to underserved low-income students, including tools for high school admissions, SAT prep and a network of mentors with similar backgrounds. She is active in organizing protests against anti-Islamic rhetoric and violence, and she thrived in a career development program, The Opportunity Network. Her family has also faced hardship with her father becoming physically disabled and her mother suffering from spinal injuries. She is passionate about dance and will attend Barnard College in the fall, focusing on entrepreneurship and economics.
  • A young man who emigrated from Mexico at the age of six and has always loved physics and math. He earned an engineering internship with Con Edison which allowed him to gain experience working on New York City’s electrical distribution system and a project focused on building stronger electrical equipment post Hurricane Sandy. He dreams of being in a position to influence and be part of technological change in order to improve the lives of people everywhere and also inspire more Latino students to pursue a STEM education. This Raj and Bhavini Amin Educational Scholar plans to pursue a degree in electrical engineering or applied physics at New York University.
  • For this scholar originally from China, her pursuit of the American Dream began only three years ago when she and her mother were forced to seek political asylum in the U.S. In that short time, she has endured two high schools across two different states, while also learning a new language and applying to colleges. Dedicated, resilient, and passionate about accounting, she hopes to one day have her own firm to provide financial literacy and accounting to immigrants and those without traditional access to such resources. This Momentum Realty Acquisition Scholar plans to study accounting and will enroll at Stony Brook University this fall.
  • A Guatemalan immigrant with a passion for food, who worked part-time in restaurants to help her family while attending high school and maintaining her high GPA. She is one step closer to her dream as an occupational therapist after getting accepted to the College of Mount Saint Vincent. She sought help and didn’t receive it from teachers who were neglectful of students at her under-resourced high school, so she looked to the internet and the library to help teach herself and others. What is our 2017 Ronaldo Linares Perseverance Award scholar most proud of? Helping tutor another fellow immigrant student achieve good grades in math.
  • This 2017 scholar moved to the country at 15 years old from Bangladesh; she arrived merely two days before her first day at high school and was initially teased and made fun of. Through sheer will, she learned English and ascended to become student Vice President her senior year. Her first initiative as student body VP? Create a buddy program to help newcomers to the US to better adjust to their new environment. Her love of math and science has led her to declare her major in civil engineering at City College of New York.
  • A young woman from Mexico, this scholar came to the U.S. as a small child and has overcome many challenges as an immigrant. She has dedicated herself to assisting her community via workshops that help promote financial management, civic engagement, leadership development, and higher education for immigrants. She is a Sponsors for Educational Opportunity scholar who was selected for a summer program with Franklin & Marshall College. With her bubbly personality and outgoing attitude, she pursues her passions, which include acting, karate, and cross-country running. This Cristela Alonzo Resilience Award Scholar plans to pursue a career as a doctor and will enroll at Binghamton University this fall.
  • Born in Indonesia and immigrated to the U.S. as a 2 year old, this scholar would come to call Queens his home. After gaining admission to the competitive Stuyvesant High School, he did nothing but excel in and outside the classroom, including serving as an active member of the peer mentorship and guidance program. With near perfect SAT scores and a rigorous course load, he still found time to become the president of his school’s dance team where his love for hip hop and dance showcases flourished. As an immigrant, he has accepted the numerous challenges and doesn’t stop pursuing the activities that make him happy. This scholar is passionate about pursuing a career as a teacher and will enroll at Stony Brook University this fall.

We would like to thank our Selection Committee for reading over 440 applications, and interviewing 19 finalists before selecting 3% of our applicants as the 2017 AEF Scholars.

Thank you for all of your contributions, including your time and financial commitments. Together, we are elevating our community through higher education and significantly improving these young persons’ lives.


Celeste, Diana, Erika, Julissa & Rob
AEF Board of Directors


AEF Scholars featured in the Village Voice

The Undocumented Need Not Apply
U.S. denies financial aid to thousands of immigrants
By Keegan Hamilton Wednesday, Aug 6 2014

Cinthia Gutierrez is well on her way to becoming a New York City police detective. The 18-year-old aspiring investigator just completed her first year of studies in the honors program at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and she already has undercover experience — though not exactly the kind favored by the NYPD. When she was 12, smugglers bringing her family into the United States from Mexico gave her a fake ID and a cover story to get past the border guards.

“They told me, ‘If someone asks you what you’re going to do, say you need to go to the mall to buy new clothes,'” Gutierrez recalls. “I didn’t even know what the mall was.”

Gutierrez spoke no English when she arrived in New York in 2007 with her mother and younger brother. Six years later, she graduated near the top of her class at Staten Island’s Susan E. Wagner High School. Under normal circumstances, she would have had her pick of colleges, but as an undocumented immigrant, her options were limited. She is barred from receiving state or federal financial aid and is ineligible for student loans. And when Gutierrez graduates, she will be unable to work legally for most employers — including those in law enforcement, the career she desires.

“I still have to find a way to fix my status,” Gutierrez says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. There hasn’t been any legislation passed that will help me.”

With comprehensive federal immigration reform stalled in Congress, promising students like Gutierrez are stuck, waiting for states to enact their own measures that expand access to higher education. In the meantime, undocu–mented students are forced to rely on scholarships and a cobbled-together support network of family, teachers, mentors, and other allies.

“My parents don’t earn that much, I didn’t have a job at the time,” Gutierrez says, recalling her high school experience. “All I could think was that I wanted to go college. I just didn’t know how to do it.”

Gutierrez eventually found a way, obtaining a scholarship and stipend from John Jay and becoming one of the first recipients of a new, private scholarship specifically reserved for undocumented immigrants and first-generation citizens graduating from New York City schools. But she is more the exception than the rule.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, roughly 65,000 undocumented people graduate from U.S. high schools each year, including an estimated 3,600 students annually in New York. Nationally, only 49 percent of undocumented high school graduates move on to college, versus 76 percent of immigrants with lawful status and 71 percent for native citizens.

“A lot of students end up feeling hopeless,” says Jessica Rofe, a former New York City public school teacher and recent graduate of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law. Rofe cites the case of one gifted former pupil who “basically stopped going to school” after being discouraged from applying to college. “They end up leaving school because they’re told by guidance counselors — or by their parents, even — that college probably isn’t an option because of their immigration status.”

Nearly 5,500 undocumented students are currently enrolled at colleges in New York, which is one of 17 states that allow undocumented students who meet certain residency requirements to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. (Other states either expressly ban undocumented students or charge international tuition, which can cost more than triple the in-state rate.) But the state still denies undocumented students the financial aid that makes college attainable for many middle-class and low-income families.

States that have opted to help fund higher education for the undocumented have shown that even modest investments can pay significant, long-term dividends. A 2012 Fiscal Policy Institute study found states that granted in-state tuition to undocumented students experienced a 14 percent decrease in college dropout rates and a 31 percent increase in college enrollment. College graduates earn an estimated $25,000 more per year than their high school-graduate counterparts in New York state and pay about $3,900 more per year in state and local taxes. (New York’s undocumented residents currently pay nearly $700 million annually in taxes.)

“The more educated they are, the better it is for our workforce,” says State Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens. “It’s better for the city’s economy, it’s better for the state economy. It’s better for everyone.”

Peralta was a prime sponsor of the New York DREAM Act, voted down 30 — 29 by the state Senate earlier this year. Peralta blames two moderate GOP legislators — Sen. Phil Boyle and Sen. Kemp Hannon — for failing to appear at the Capitol when the votes were cast.

“They mysteriously disappeared,” Peralta says. “I’m pretty sure [Republican Party] leadership asked them to take a walk. ”

Hannon did not respond to messages requesting comment for this story. Boyle says he was attending his uncle’s wake at the time and would have voted no, regardless.

“I’m very sympathetic to the plight of the dreamers,” Boyle, who represents a swath of Long Island’s South Shore, says. “I know they’re in this situation through no fault of their own. But I have concerns about the use of taxpayer money in this regard.”

The State Education Department estimated that the annual cost of expanding the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to cover undocumented immigrants would be $627,428 per year. (The Fiscal Policy Institute, anticipating higher enrollment, predicted the figure would be closer to $17 million annually.) By comparison, the California Department of Finance estimates that approximately 2,500 undocumented students qualify each year for $14.5 million worth of state education grants.

Without access to financial aid, Cinthia Gutierrez works three days a week at a Mexican restaurant near her family’s modest home in Staten Island’s Port Richmond neighborhood. Her father earns decent money working construction, and her mother works as a housekeeper. All members of the family are undocumented.

Gutierrez’s father, José Manuel, explains in Spanish that he brought his family to the United States to provide a better future for Cinthia and her brother, a high school junior who wants to become a computer engineer. “The people who came here illegally, the majority work in construction, in restaurants with a minimum salary,” he says. “We can’t pay for college with the cost that high. If you have three kids, that’s a lot of bills.”

Easing the burden on the Gutierrez family is a $5,000 scholarship Cinthia received from the Ascend Educational Fund (AEF). Co-founded in 2012 by Julissa Arce, a former undocumented immigrant who gained legal status and ultimately landed jobs at Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, the crowdfunded program distributed $63,000 among eight graduating high school seniors this year.

That was out of 350 applicants, and Arce laments the fact that dozens of qualified candidates who didn’t make the cut are left with little recourse when it comes to financing their education.

“It’s so heartbreaking,” Arce says. “I wish we knew of other [resources] we could send them to, but frankly we don’t know too many other scholarships where undocumented kids can apply. Other kids have more options, from financial aid to loans or a million other scholarships they can apply to.”

Arce dreams of eventually expanding AEF to cover all of New York state or perhaps other major cities with large immigrant populations, but for now, only residents of the city’s five boroughs qualify for the scholarships. Arce says the scholarship committee focuses on awarding money to students who might otherwise not be able to attend college.

“That’s something we’re very mindful of,” Arce says. “A lot of kids might think, ‘Oh, I’m going to go part-time or take a year off and work and then go.’ Then life happens, and those things don’t end up happening.”

Though invaluable for some, private scholarships such as the AEF cover just a small percentage of the undocumented high school graduates who could potentially afford college if not for their immigration status. The only real remedy, Arce says, is federal immigration reform, and the DREAM Act has been stalled in Congress since 2010, when it was filibustered by Senate Republicans. The measure has the support of President Obama, multiple national education groups, and most top universities.

Gutierrez and other young, undocumented immigrants say that though they are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, they consider themselves American and share a common desire to make the most of life in their adopted homeland.

“Being American is not about where you are born and not even what papers you have,” says Jin Park, an 18-year-old undocumented student from South Korea, who was raised in Queens and will attend Harvard next year. “Being American is the desire to make something better of yourself and willing to be accepting of a lot of views and values and beliefs.”

For Gutierrez, who arrived in the United States a few months too late to qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — President Obama’s 2012 executive order granting a temporary work authorization and reprieve from deportation for people who immigrated illegally as children — the risk is very real that she or her parents could be deported back to Mexico. Her parents say they abide by the laws and diligently pay taxes “to be right with the country” if a path to citizenship ever becomes available. Her father says half-jokingly that if Gutierrez does eventually become a police officer, he will be less fearful about receiving a traffic ticket that could set him on the path to deportation and leave the family without their main breadwinner.

“I guess if I put myself in the shoes of the people who are against immigration reform, I can see some of their points of view,” Gutierrez says. “But at the same time, a lot of the people here as undocu–mented people, we can do so much for the country if we are given the opportunity.”

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Congratulations to our 2014 Scholars!

We are thrilled to introduce our nine 2014 AEF Scholars!  Thanks to the generous contributions of supporters like you, our Advisory Council, CUNY, and the Indiegogo Community, these nine scholars will receive a total of $63,000 in college scholarships, which includes $30,000 raised through our Indiegogo Campaign.

We would like to thank our Selection Committee for reading over 340 applications, and interviewing 22 finalists before selecting 2% of our applicants as the 2014 AEF Scholars.

Our nine 2014 Scholars exemplify the diverse immigrant community in New York City and represent Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, India, Mexico, South Korea, Tibet and Burma.  Take a moment to read each of their extraordinary stories.

We are in the process of matching our scholars with mentors.  If you would like to join our mentorship program, please contact us at 

A Tibetan refugee who immigrated from India three years ago and whose journey to the United States has been nothing short of remarkable.  At the again of six, his family embarked on a trek across the Himalayas to Nepal to escape his homeland of Tibet.  He was subsequently sent by his family to India, where he was educated by monks.  Reunited with his family, he is now an avid break dancer with a passion for robotics.  This Scholar’s good nature and endless optimism are palpable when you are in his presence.  This fall he will attend Binghamton University, majoring in Astrophysics.  This Indiegogo Community Scholarship recipient dreams of being part of a NASA mission.

A young man who immigrated from Bangladesh at the age of 4 and now lives in Brooklyn.  This Arthur Li Distinguished Rising Star Award recipient is headed to Cornell University and his long-term goal is to become the CEO of his own open-source software company.  He has endured extreme poverty and helps to care for his young nephew, doing homework late at night when his duties are done.  In his words, his dream is to be a “lifelong scholar.”

A young woman who immigrated from Ecuador and now lives in Inwood.  This Danaus Awesome Achievement Award recipient is in the top 2% of her graduating class. Inspired by her own scoliosis diagnosis and her mother’s stomach cancer, her long-term dream is to become a pediatrician.  She will major in Forensic Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice this fall. She is active in the community and led a campaign to raise funds and awareness for children in African who cannot afford shoes.  In her words, the struggles of an immigrant is what motivated her to keep moving forward.

A young man who immigrated from Mexico and is graduating from one of the top high schools in the nation.  He received a score of 3 and above on 5 AP exams.  This CUNY Excellence Award recipient will be attending Baruch College.  He promotes the values of hard work and perseverance to those around him through the Big Brother/Big sister program at his high school.  Through success in education and business, he hopes to promote social change and improve his community.  He believes it is the youth’s responsibility to change any negative stigmas associated with the immigrant community.

A young woman who immigrated from the Dominican Republic three years ago, leaving her mother and two siblings behind. Following tremendous hardship, she finally feels a sense of safety and calm in her fourth foster home, and is proud to say her struggles have not stopped her.  She actively gives back to the immigrant community by mentoring students to improve their basic literacy skills, and educates immigrants about their rights with Community Voices Heard.  She will attend Bard College this fall and plans to pursue a degree in a social science.

A South Korean young man whose family left everything behind to give him a chance of obtaining a better education.  His internship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was cut short due to his status, but he did not give up and successfully campaigned with the director to re-instate his position.   His courage and resilience earned him admission to Harvard, where he will major in Biology.  This Arthur Li Distinguished Rising Star Award recipient plans to pursue a career in medicine and research.  In his own words, his status empowers him to work harder and to always lend a helping hand to those who are struggling.

A young woman whose parents immigrated from Mexico.  She is passionate about science and improving human health.  She has successfully maintained an A average while also working part-time in the evening cleaning medical facilities.  She has contributed 360 hours of community service during her high school career, highlighted by a trip to Mali in West Africa with buildOn. In addition, she spends significant hours conducting lab work and is proud to have earned Second Place in the Bronx Science and Engineering Fair at Lehman College.  She will attend Union College and plans to pursue biomedical engineering.

An Indian-Bengali young woman who dreams of becoming a chemical engineer to help identify a cure for cancer.  She took it upon herself to research mentors in cancer research and has worked under a Chemistry Professor at CUNY’s York College. A survivor of domestic violence, she strives to be independent in order to achieve her dreams and find her true purpose in life.  She holds several part-time jobs to contribute to her family’s finances.  She will be attending Penn State this fall.

A Burmese immigrant who moved to the US at the age of 8 and currently resides in Woodside with his family. He will be attending Princeton and studying Economics. He was a straight A high school student and achieved the highest possible score on every AP exam, despite struggling with English when he first moved to America. His interests and experiences are diverse. He enjoys extemporaneous speaking and competed with his school, while also founding his school’s Woodworking Club and Eco-Design Club. He is also a Set Design Director and manages crew members to build theater sets. In 2013, he had lunch with Michelle Obama for the National Design Awards. His dream is to continue to develop his leader skills and ultimately have an impact in developing the future of Burma.

Our initial goal for 2014 was to award $50,000, and instead, thanks to your support, we are awarding 97% more than we were able to award in 2013!

Thank you for all your contributions, including your time and financial commitments. Together, we are significantly improving these young person’s lives.  We look forward to changing many more lives in years to come.


Adrienne, Celeste, Diana, Erika, Julissa & Rob

AEF Board of Directors

AEF on Bloomberg News

Young Bankers Seek ‘Good Yield’ With Their Own Nonprofits
By Max Abelson – Feb 4, 2014
Bloomberg News

The founders of the Resolution Project don’t dwell on generosity or charity when they describe why their nonprofit mentors and funds young leaders. They favor the language of finance.

“We get good yield,” said Andrew Harris, the group’s 31-year-old vice chairman, who advises private-equity firms at Forum Capital Partners in New York. “We think it’s very different and, to use a Wall Street term, very differentiated.”

Without deserting careers, a new wave of young bankers is starting nonprofits to help orphans, immigrants, veterans and students. They say they’re moved to mend the world using capitalism’s wisdom, not because of its shortcomings, preaching the power of dividends, due diligence, leverage and efficient allocation of resources. Some see themselves setting a new mold for post-crisis Wall Street philanthropy by not waiting to give away their money or leaving for full-time charity work.

“Among this generation — our generation — is a deep passion and interest in learning, earning and returning simultaneously,” said Andrew Klaber, 32, an analyst at hedge fund Paulson & Co. whose nonprofit Even Ground provides education and care to African children affected by AIDS. “You just see an unmet need in your research, and research is what we do on Wall Street.”

‘Made It’
Even Ground, which has given out more than $800,000 according to Internal Revenue Service filings, received early funding from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Three founders of Ascend Educational Fund, which throws its inaugural gala in New York’s Prince George Ballroom Feb. 8, have worked at that bank.

“Our target audience is a very under-covered market,” said Adrienne Serrato, 27, an Ascend co-founder who now works for Houston-based investment firm WindAcre Partnership. Her group, which grants scholarships regardless of immigration status, awarded $32,000 in 2013, its first full year.

Another Ascend co-founder, Julissa Arce, develops derivatives for Merrill Lynch clients at Bank of America Corp.

“The first time I felt like I made it wasn’t when I made director,” said Arce, 30, a University of Texas graduate. “I felt like I made it when I launched this fund.”

Lessons from capital markets aren’t the only inspirations. Others described being shaken by the 2008 financial crisis, even if they don’t see bankers as villains.

System Meltdowns
“There’s been a cultural humility that’s come out of the financial crisis,” said Tim Kleiman, 30, an analyst for New York-based asset manager Golub Capital. He’s working on a project to fund higher education in Africa that may aim for profit. “When you’re confronted with these really humbling events, where you see the meltdown of these systems and the sad human costs of that — that were not necessarily the result of anyone’s intention — for me it galvanized my thinking.”

Kleiman, a Yale University graduate who worked for McKinsey & Co. and hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. before Golub, said he doesn’t want to wait for his career to hit its high point before undertaking meaningful projects.

“That world that I’m imagining, where I’m a partner and I’ve made all my money, who knows what that world’s going to look like?” he said. “So why not try something now?”

Several founders, including some of the young bankers, warned that the work demands more than passion and pluck. Nancy Lublin, who started Dress for Success, which gives unemployed women suits for job interviews, said she cautions aspiring philanthropists even while admiring their intensity.

‘Root Canal’
“I’ve never run a hedge fund, and they’ve never run a not-for-profit,” said Lublin, 42, now chief executive officer of Do Something, an organization that runs national campaigns about bullying, the environment and other causes to engage teenagers. “I brush my teeth every day, twice a day, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to perform a root canal on somebody.”

Some Wall Street nonprofit founders described hitting logistical and financial snags trickier than expected.

Kelly Peeler, a co-founder of Business Across Borders, said she had a hard time planning entrepreneur competitions in Iraq while working as a JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst in New York.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” said Peeler, 26, who left the biggest U.S. bank last year to be a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation global scholar.

Ahmad Zubair Sahar Mahjoor, 37, struggled to raise funds for his Afghan Education Peace Foundation, which aimed to bring students from Afghanistan to the U.S. for schooling. The partner at Latin Markets, a New York firm that organizes forums for investors, said he’s winding down the group after six years.

“You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you’ll look funny on a horse,” Sahar Mahjoor said.

Marathon Man
Others are undaunted. New York Needs You, which mentors students who are the first in their families to attend college, raised almost $1.4 million at a Jan. 23 gala, according to a press release. Robert Reffkin, a former chief of staff to Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, started the group in 2009 while working at the New York-based firm. The fundraiser honored Adebayo Ogunlesi, a member of the bank’s board.

“There is a subculture of young Wall Street people starting nonprofits,” said Reffkin, who left the bank to co-found Urban Compass, a real estate startup that says it’s using technology to improve housing searches for New Yorkers.

The firm and the nonprofit aren’t his only creations. The 34-year-old Columbia University graduate helped start a Success Academy charter school in the Bronx, began a Lazard Freres & Co. minority internship program and ran 50 marathons in 50 states over six years, ending in New York in November.

‘Let’s Go’
Reffkin, raised by a single mother, was one of the founders who described being driven by life experience and personality.

“I’m a starter of things,” said Oliver Libby, another co-founder of the Resolution Project, which will hold competitions for student social ventures at the United Nations Youth Assembly this month and the Clinton Global Initiative University in Phoenix in March. “I just have fun with it. So there’s a certain aspect of me that just is like, yeah, sure, let’s get that started, let’s go.”

Libby, 32, a managing director at New York-based advisory firm Hatzimemos Partners LLC, started a Harvard University a cappella group and was included in a Harvard Crimson story about students who wanted to be president of the U.S. Another Resolution co-founder, Howard Levine, is a colleague of Arce’s at Bank of America, where he works on a special-situations team.

“You can have your cake and eat it too — there doesn’t need to be a tension between Wall Street and nonprofit,” said Harris, who went to high school in Westchester with Levine. “And we’re proving that.”

Scalability, Mitigation
The language of banking shapes their group, with Resolution judging pitches on market demand, scalability, risk mitigation and returns. Winners get as much as $3,000 of seed funding and mentoring from volunteers who work at firms including New York-based Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan.

Resolution “is an allocator,” Libby said. “In a sense, we’re angel investors.”

There are limits to what the vocabulary and methodology of banking can do for nonprofits, according to Andrew Hahn, who directs the Sillerman Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy at Brandeis University.

“Often it works out, and I call that a magical outcome, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Hahn said, adding that metrics Wall Street relies on for risk management can be harder to find in philanthropy. “Sometimes the Wall Street people bring their culture into the nonprofit arena and expect too much.”

‘Doing Good’
Most of the young Wall Street philanthropists promote their efforts on the resumes they post online. Some share abundant details. The LinkedIn page for Alliance for Veteran Support co-founder Omar Itum, 29, a Johns Hopkins University graduate, describes the group’s press coverage, partnerships, contacts and goals, detailing a fundraiser that was “one of the largest charity events in the financial-services industry.”

It includes little about his job as head trader for Charter Bridge Capital Management LP, an investment manager.

Joseph Weilgus, 36, who started Project Sunshine in 1998 to entertain hospitalized children, doesn’t question the motives that drive Wall Street’s new philanthropists.

“At the end of the day, if they’re doing good, that’s great,” said Weilgus, the CEO of investment adviser New Legacy Group LLC. “You don’t have to question people’s intentions if they’re doing good.”

The current wave of bankers starting nonprofits isn’t the first to wash over Wall Street. Even young founders who described trying to create a new model of banker philanthropy paused to offer praise for predecessors.

Klaber, whose group Even Ground was previously known as Orphans Against AIDS, applauded the generosity of John Paulson, his New York-based hedge fund’s billionaire owner, and cited former Goldman Sachs heads John Whitehead, Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson as “tri-sector athletes” who’ve thrived in business, charity and politics.

“Perfection is the aspiration,” Klaber said. “I just try to do the best that I can.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Max Abelson in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Eichenbaum at

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