Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify that undocumented workers do not receive financial aid from Virginia Tech. 

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 2, 2015 – It takes a truly courageous leader to stand up for those without an advocate, especially when you’re in need of advocate as well.

Though he sat in introductory courses, lived in a residence hall, and was still finding his way around this campus, Juan de la Rosa Diaz of Chesterfield, Virginia, made a mark at Virginia Tech as a first year student. A political science and Spanish major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, he established the Tech DREAMers organization to advocate for undocumented students.

“It wasn’t until high school that I realized how being undocumented affected and limited a lot of the options I have,” said de la Rosa Diaz. Since then, he said he has learned never to hesitate. “There are situations that are difficult, sometimes you’ll fear acting or speaking out, but to use your voice to define yourself is one of the most amazing feelings. So don’t be afraid to be courageous when faced with adversity."

De la Rosa Diaz was selected as the Virginia Tech Division of Student Affairs' Aspire! Award recipient last spring. The awards recognize students who embody Virginia Tech’s Aspirations for Student Learning. Nominations for the first Aspire! Awards of the 2015-16 school year are due Sept. 4.

In his nomination last year of de la Rosa Diaz, Xavier Medina Vidal, assistant professor of political science, wrote, "Juan is truly our campus’ ambassador to the DREAMer and tuition equity community in Virginia. He put the Tech DREAMers on the map as an intelligent and articulate resource for our campus.”

It took until 2014 for undocumented students to receive in-state tuition at Virginia universities, but de la Rosa Diaz fought to be a Hokie. Medina Vidal heard about him from older students who met de la Rosa Diaz at a new student orientation event and reached out to meet up with him. “Juan took our first conversation and ran with it,” he said. ‘He has since worked tirelessly and courageously to raise awareness of this new and important student constituency on our campus.” 

Last fall, de la Rosa Diaz organized a tour for a group of young DREAMers from Northern Virginia to visit Virginia Tech. He showed the students that they not only have the opportunity to come to this university, but also have a support system and community of advocates when they arrive on campus.

“I found out that one of those DREAMers was accepted to Virginia Tech. He told me he would not have even considered applying had he not known about our organization,” said de la Rosa Diaz.

De la Rosa Diaz hopes to advocate for immigration reform at the national level as well. During winter break, he teamed up with members of the statewide DREAMers of Virginia to fight legislation that was introduced in the General Assembly that would have eliminated their in-state tuition. He has also met with Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands to discuss steps the university can take towards becoming a more inclusive campus, and he’s working with undergraduate admissions to create an informational page for prospective undocumented applicants.

In October, November, February, March, and April of each school year, the Division of Student Affairs honors exceptional students with Aspire! Awards. Throughout the course of the academic year, 25 students will be honored for their commitment to living out the Aspirations for Student Learning.

Nomination information, along with important dates, can be found online.

Written by Holly Paulette.