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River Forest, IL—Dominican University’s ongoing commitment to supporting undocumented students has earned the institution high regards from a trio of higher education and immigrant rights organizations.

TheDream.US, the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, and Immigrants Rising honored Dominican during their inaugural SUCCESS awards ceremony in late March. The first-year event recognized committed institutions, student advocates, and higher education leaders who are supporting undocumented students’ access and success on their campuses and beyond. 

Dominican University is one of the first universities in the country to publicly welcome and support students regardless of documentation and immigration status. Dominican prides itself on providing a campus climate and an academic experience that promotes the security and well-being of all persons, especially those who are underrepresented and struggling for voice and opportunity.

Dominican specifically earned the SUCCESS award for its efforts developing Non-Employment Based Opportunities (NEBO) for students and “working across many departments to ensure their development and implementation.” Non-Employment Based  Opportunities are inclusive, on-campus experiential learning opportunities open to all students at Dominican.

Dominican’s NEBO model is one of the first in the country that allows students to engage in compensated professional development regardless of immigration status, according to Jacky Neri Arias, executive director of student experience and inclusion at Dominican University.

“It's a very significant program that has not only lifted Dominican’s name nationally as an innovative and culturally responsive institution, but it has also made DU a more inclusive university,” Neri Arias said.

Through NEBOs, students sharpen leadership and professional skills by completing a project of interest under the supervision of a faculty or staff mentor. Students and their mentors of choice collaborate on the creation of a special project to advance their field and educational knowledge.

NEBO projects often include, but are not limited to, presentations, research, interpersonal skill development, soft and hard skill development, as well as reflection activities and journals.     

Dominican’s innovative program provides the tools and resources necessary for students to gain professional skills and leadership experience while on campus. This initiative also awards students with a stipend each semester, determined in collaboration with the coordinating site and nature of the project.

Neri Arias and former Dominican staffer Maria Gutierrez spearheaded the university’s NEBO model by conducting extensive research on employment and immigration policies while also developing a strategy for institutionalizing the model in coordination with the offices of business and financial aid, securing funding, and training campus partners.

Yessy Hernandez, Dominican’s assistant director of the Center for Cultural Liberation and undocumented student support coordinator, also assisted in the growth of the university’s NEBO model by expanding it to the Star Fellows program with a special grant from TheDream.US grant over three years. TheDream.US is the nation’s largest college and career success program for undocumented immigrant youth, providing scholarship opportunities for students to pursue higher education.

Dominican’s Star Fellows Program, funded by TheDream.US, allows undocumented students to receive stipends through a partnership with Parker Dewey, a mission-driven organization dedicated to providing equitable access to professional opportunities. Through the program, TheDream.US scholars are invited to design fellowships with the mentorship of a faculty or staff member. At the end of semesters, mentors and mentees are then asked to complete assessments to determine whether the goals of each project were met. 

Additionally, several other administrative and academic departments throughout the university have aided in the program’s growth by serving as NEBO mentors, Neri Arias says. Many even utilize their own research grants or department budgets to award stipends to NEBO fellows.

Due to our development of NEBOs, Dominican is perceived nationally as a leader in support for undocumented students,” Neri Arias said.

When Neri Arias first envisioned the idea of NEBOs, she hoped to create a model that would “unapologetically center immigrant students, but also serve the community at large.”

"When I had the idea of NEBOs, I was not thinking about winning awards or gaining recognition. I was meeting a need: the need to stop tokenizing and exploiting undocumented students with free labor,” she said. “The greatest honor is seeing our students take up space in places that they have traditionally been excluded from, like research labs, prestigious internships, the nonprofit sector, etc.”

Neri Arias said she first pictured the idea of NEBOs when she was a college student herself and could not get paid due to not having work authorization. She has previously attempted to implement NEBOs at other institutions she’s worked at, but her vision “never quite got the support that it needed.”

“I am beyond grateful to have the support from DU leadership and national partners in making higher education a more inclusive place for all students," she said.


About Dominican University

Founded in 1901, Dominican University is a comprehensive, coeducational Catholic institution offering an associate of arts in liberal arts and sciences as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the Rosary College of Arts and Sciences, the Borra College of Health Sciences, the Brennan School of Business and the College of Applied Social Sciences. The university also offers doctoral degrees in information studies and applied social justice. U.S. News & World Report ranks Dominican University #11 out of all Midwest regional master’s level universities, #1 in the Midwest for Best Value and #1 in Illinois for innovation and ensuring the social mobility of its graduates.

About TheDream.US

TheDream.US is the nation’s largest college and career success program for undocumented immigrant students, having provided more than 10,000 college scholarships to Dreamers attending over 80 partner colleges in 21 states and Washington, DC. TheDream.US believes everyone, regardless of where they were born, should have equitable access to a college education, a meaningful career, and opportunities to contribute to the communities they call home. For more information on TheDream.US, visit

About the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration brings college and university presidents and chancellors together on the immigration issues that impact higher education, our students, campuses, communities and nation. The organization works to support undocumented, international and refugee students, and advance forward-looking immigration policies and practices at the federal level, in our states, and across our college campuses. The Alliance is composed of 550+ college and university presidents and chancellors of public and private colleges and universities, enrolling over five million students in 42 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

About Immigrants Rising

Since 2006, Immigrants Rising has transformed undocumented individuals and fueled broader changes around the country. With Immigrant Rising’s resources and support, undocumented people can get an education, pursue careers, and build a brighter future for themselves and their communities. Highly respected within the field, Immigrants Rising has a proven track record of supporting the success and mobility of undocumented students through collaborative efforts with students, educators, and institutions. Immigrants Rising is a women-led, BIPOC-led, and immigrant-led 501c3 organization. For more information, visit