Giving Back, Making a Difference: Dream Award Scholar Nicole Trujillo
By Pam Carlson
Two events in Nicole Trujillo’s life were game-changers for her long-term goals.
The first was in middle school, when she saw her father arrested in a case of mistaken identity. “I knew he was not the criminal the authorities sought,” she remembers. “My father’s ID had been stolen shortly after he emigrated from Mexico to escape suffocating poverty. He felt incapable of recovering his identity due to his lack of English.” While her father’s case is still unresolved, he is home with his family.
The experience made Nicole determined to excel academically, and inspired an interest in immigration law. “My parents immigrated and worked endless hours to grant me the privilege of an education,” she says. “I would not destroy their dreams. I learned not only how to care for my siblings but also how to dedicate time and effort to my education. I matured quickly.”
Nicole was determined to break down obstacles to going to college. As she was doing research on how to pay for her tuition, she found the Scholarship America Dream Award on this very website. Thanks to support from the Dream Award, as well as federal aid and part-time work, she now is able to pay for books, tuition and other costs.
The first-generation student chose to pursue college at the University of Houston because it allows her to live at home and continue to help her family. She initially majored in biology, with a goal of becoming a surgeon and providing healthcare to her community on Houston’s Northside.
“I grew uneasy about the healthcare system,” Nicole says. “I accepted the lack of healthcare professionals in my community, but I failed to acknowledge the compromised healthcare.”
Her uncle’s passing from COVID, however, made that issue clear—and became the second traumatic event that changed Nicole’s future plans.
“The day my uncle began showing symptoms of COVID, we rushed him to our local clinic where he was denied attention,” she says. “We then drove him to our local hospital where he spent a day without medical attention for unknown reasons.”
After 14 days in a coma, her uncle passed away; Nicole immediately explored what she could do to ensure others wouldn’t have to endure a similar struggle.
She went to work on the COVID outreach team at Harris County Public Health. “I wish people would be more considerate of the effect of their decisions,” she says. “When people are against vaccine, wearing masks and social distancing, it gets a little frustrating.”
Now a certified community health care worker, Nicole has been able to work with a wide variety of different professionals in the public health care field. Her experience has her interested in addressing disparities in healthcare.
“It’s time patients worry less about socioeconomic and language barriers and more about their health,” Nicole says. “I don’t believe a person should compromise their health because of socioeconomic or legal status.”
As a result, as she continues her education at UH with the support of the Dream Award, Nicole is now shifting her major to public health or immigration law—decisions impacted by family crises, and which her parents are now cheering on.
“My parents are definitely happy that I’m doing something to help others and give back to our community,” she says. We are proud to support Nicole, and our full class of Dream Award Scholars, as they work to build stronger communities and a better world.