True Potential Scholarship Banquet: Scholarships Help Dreamers Realize Their True Potential

Luis Olivas
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Luis Olivas was facing deporta­tion when President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Since age 6, Olivas had lived in Crete, and he moved to Schuyler with his family after he gradu­ated high school. He was work­ing under an assumed name when U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents caught him, placed him in detention for about a year and put him through deporta­tion proceedings.

“During that year, educators and counselors and all those folks were the ones that were helping me prove my case,” Olivas said. “So that’s the reason why I went into education – to do the same sort of thing that they did for me.”

Olivas said an immigration judge in Omaha ultimately ordered his de­portation. He was supposed to leave the U.S. of his own accord in August 2012, but DACA was announced just weeks before his scheduled de­parture.

DACA al­lows children brought to the U.S. ille­gally by their parents as mi­nors to have protection from depor­tation and to work.

Guidelines had yet to be pub­lished when Olivas sought a stay so he could remain in Nebraska while filing for DACA. Federal prosecu­tors in Omaha supported his request, and a judge allowed him to submit an application.

Once his DACA status was ap­proved, Olivas saw his life start to change dramatically. He no longer faced deportation to Mexico. He was able to work again. 

When Nebraska began issuing driver’s licenses to those protected by DACA, called Dreamers, he was among the first to apply. He enrolled at Central Community College in Columbus, where he paid his own way – federal and state financial aid aren’t available to undocumented immigrants, including those receiv­ing deferred action.

Olivas said one day a friend told him about the True Potential Scholarship. He applied, and he was among the 2015 recipients. He said the day he learned about the scholar­ship was “probably one of the best days I have ever had.”

Olivas finished his associate’s degree, and he received a full-ride scholarship to finish a Bachelors of Arts in education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney in December 2018.

He got a job working at UNK as a diversity recruitment and leadership coordinator, helping to bring diverse students to campus, which includes first-generation college-going stu­dents, socioeconomically disad­vantaged students, ethically diverse students and LGBTQ students. His background helps him reach out to those students as a role model.

“My experience is not unique,” Olivas said. “I’m just more open about it than other people.”

Olivas is currently enrolled in a master’s program at UNK and is seeking a green card – a process he expects could take years.

The transformations in Olivas’ life journey, both receiving DACA and the True Potential Scholarship, will be the subject of his remarks at the upcoming True Potential fund­raising banquet.

Ross Pesek, founding partner of Pesek Law LLC, said he helped register about a hundred people for DACA when it was announced in 2012, and that work motivated him and his wife Karen, the firm’s fi­nance director and community liai­son, to start offering scholarships to benefit DACA recipients.

“These people have literally grown up and their entire life is here,” he said. “We started a pri­vate fund so that these people in our community would be able to con­tinue their education, would be able to develop their personal capacities and would be able to reach their true potential.”

The scholarships can be used for traditional college programs as well as technical and trade programs, either on a full-time or a part-time basis. He said some of the recipients pursue academic transfer programs to four-year universities, but the scholarships must be used at Iowa or Nebraska community colleges.

The Peseks are both graduates of Central Community College, and they believe in the power of com­munity colleges in providing access to quality education.

“It’s successful because it’s af­fordable,” Pesek said. “On the one hand, we’re advocates for DACA recipients. On the other hand, we’re advocates for community college.”

The fundraising banquet, which will be held Wednesday, directs all proceeds toward scholarships.

“It’s an opportunity for people to see what a DACA recipient looks like and to meet them,” Pesek said. “There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about negative aspects of immigration in our community. This evening will be an opportunity to highlight all of the people who are doing positive things in our commu­nity, who are positive members of our community, and I’d love to see as many attorneys, judges and mem­bers of the bar exposed to a positive vision for immigrants in our com­munity.”

For Liliana Martinez, the schol­arship was the only way she could afford to study early childhood education at Southeast Community College in Lincoln after her father was diagnosed with leukemia and her parents stopped working.

“They were the ones helping me pay for my school since I didn’t qualify for financial aid,” Martinez said.

She now plans to open her own in-home daycare, which wouldn’t have been possible without the sup­port shown by the Peseks and the support from those she’s met as a result of the program.

“I feel like they are part of my family now,’ Martinez said. “They are awesome people.”

For more information, or to RSVP to the scholarship banquet, visit



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