Oscar Flores, a healthcare worker from Durham, was one of two North Carolina immigrants brought into the country as children who received "surprise" scholarships last week from WGU North Carolina. (Image via screenshot) Oscar Flores
Oscar Flores, a healthcare worker from Durham, was one of two North Carolina immigrants brought into the country as children who received "surprise" scholarships last week from WGU North Carolina. (Image via screenshot)

The nonprofit online university WGU North Carolina granted two “surprise” $10,000 scholarships last week to a healthcare worker from Durham and a teaching assistant from Siler City.

“I’ve worked really hard,” says Oscar Flores, shaking his head. “It’s been really hard just to be here in school.” 

Flores is a 32-year-old healthcare worker from Durham who’s been in the United States on a temporary visa since his family fled earthquake-torn El Salvador two decades ago. Moments ago, he found out that he was receiving a $10,000 scholarship to the online nonprofit university WGU North Carolina.

Such scholarships are crucial for non-citizens like Flores who aren’t eligible for state or federal financial aid. 

Flores was one of two immigrants in North Carolina awarded $10,000 “surprise” scholarships to attend WGU North Carolina last week, the university said. 

The school also granted a scholarship to Araceli Lopez, a public school teaching assistant who lives in Siler City.

Both Flores and Lopez don’t qualify for federal or state assistance as former undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children.  

Flores’ visa does not provide a path toward citizenship so Oscar did not qualify for federal aid to extend his education beyond high school. 

Thanks to the scholarship Flores, who works at Duke Hospital, is able to take college classes after spending years working his way up as a healthcare worker. Flores spoke to Cardinal & Pine about the struggles and triumphs he faced trying to expand his education beyond high school without the benefits of federal assistance. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

C&P: How did you feel when you found out that you were receiving the scholarship?

Oscar Flores: It was a very emotional moment, especially with my background. I had to do a lot of saving. I didn’t qualify for any federal loans or financial aid. So it took a lot of stress out of me knowing that I qualified for that scholarship. 

C&P: Can you tell us more about your background? What are some things that you’ve personally had to overcome?

Oscar Flores: (My family and I) came here under a visa. It was a worker’s permit called TPS (Temporary Program Status). But it doesn’t have any routes towards citizenship, it’s more of a temporary thing, hence the name. So some of the obstacles are just navigating through a lot of things, especially with school. Like I said, I never qualified for any of the federal financial aid. So I really tried to find ways around it and find other solutions to reach my goals. As for me, it was mainly just education.

My family and I weren’t informed as well of what access we had to (federal aid) or any other type of assistance. So that was the very challenging part (of) my life. I know there’s a lot of other people that have similar challenges because they are undocumented and I don’t think there’s a lot of outreach for people to find these resources or explore other options.

C&P: What are you planning to do with your degree?

Oscar Flores: I’ve been very happy with the field that I’m in. So I’m trying to pursue being in some type of healthcare administration. I see that as a long-term career move. Eventually, I would like to be an entrepreneur, maybe own a restaurant one day. 

With healthcare, I found out that I actually enjoy it. It’s a very great career and you’re just helping others. It’s a huge thing and I’m happy that I get joy from working in healthcare.

C&P: What would you tell somebody else that maybe had an upbringing similar to yours that’s trying to figure out what they want to do after high school? 

Oscar Flores: I would say always keep trying. For me, finding out the limited opportunities that I had was very discouraging. But I know that there are actually a lot of resources out there and it just depends on where you are in your life, where your connections are. 

Don’t be discouraged. It’s not too late. I’m 32 and I’m going back to school and it’s great. It’s a great experience. This is an investment and it’s going to last for at least another 35 years. People are not retiring until they’re 65, at least, so it’s still a great investment. It’s never too late to go back to school. 

We all have a dream. We all have ambition, in a way, and it’s about not settling and trying to still pursue those dreams, even though it can be scary. It’s a scary process trying to navigate through that, especially financially for us not having as many opportunities.

Find the motivation. Find support from friends and family. And do as much research as you can on your own.