Inspiring Confidence: Dream Award Scholar Manuel Alarcon Nava
By Pam Carlson
Imposter syndrome almost kept Manuel (Manny) Alarcon Nava from applying for the Scholarship America Dream Award. “I wondered ‘am I good enough? Why do I deserve this award?’” Manny said.
As a result, Manny – a Butler University student who speaks six languages, maintains a strong 3.72 GPA, and has a resume overflowing with community service, awards and honors – passed on applying the first year he was eligible, even though finances were definitely a burden.
Then Manny met Marcos Navarro Garcia, a 2019 Scholarship America Dream Award scholar. Marcos, a media studies and Spanish senior, is associate coordinator of multicultural student engagement at Butler and a fellow in the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program. The two young men quickly connected, in part due to their shared experience as undocumented students.
“Marcos told me about the Dream Award. I wouldn’t be here without his support and help,” Manny said. “What started as a mentor/mentee relationship is now a friendship that’s absolutely amazing. He built up my confidence and I am forever grateful.”
Blazing His Own Trail
Long before college or the Dream Award, Manny found himself blazing his own trail. “I always like to think that I had to come out twice in my life,” he said. “Once as gay and the other as undocumented.”
He came out as gay when he was in sixth grade. “Although some of the most important people in my life had a negative reaction, the most difficult thing was coming out to myself. I deeply cared about how I treated myself and how honest I was with myself,” Manny said. “It was so hard because I knew a million good things could happen to me, but one bad experience because of my sexuality could lead to my death. That was a tough realization as an 11-year-old.
“Similarly, my undocumented status always hovered over me,” he added. His family emigrated from Acapulco, Mexico when he was three. As early as middle school, Manny helped translate documents for his parents, whose primary language is Spanish—and, while it was a big responsibility for a young student, the experience inspired a love of languages that now informs his course of study.
Manny started taking Chinese in sixth grade, picked up Japanese in high school, and French and German at Butler. “Chinese is definitely my favorite language,” Manny says. “I fell in love with the writing system. Writing characters excites me a lot. It’s not difficult, just different.”
Pursuing Ambitious Goals
After high school, Manny decided to major in modern languages and political science at Butler. But In Indiana, tuition for undocumented and out-of-state students is triple the tuition for residents, and his parents work in fast food and are unable to help with the cost of college.
The need to meet those high tuition costs with little help led Manny to a variety of jobs—and he’s balancing his work with his commitment to helping others. He is a peer career advisor for Ascend Indiana, a group that focuses on underrepresented students and helps them connect to scholarship opportunities. He is also a resident assistant at Irvington House, a student assistant at Butler’s Career and Professional Success office, and a private Chinese and Japanese tutor.
“I want to be that person [who supports] others,” he says. “Public service is my calling.” Manny wants to work to advance the economic, social and political status of the marginalized.
Volunteering for political campaigns is helping him learn the political system. He worked on Congressional and gubernatorial campaigns, and now is interning with Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office in Indianapolis. Next summer he hopes to intern with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington DC. He is also active with student government and College Democrats of Indiana.
“Manny is driven, ambitious and brings a fun and charismatic personality to each task,” said Butler University professor Bryce Berkowitz. “He works on efforts that promote inclusion…and truly believes in promoting equity, not in a superficial way, but in a way that demonstrates how much he cares about underrepresented groups.”
Manny speaks from experience when he advises other students who experience imposter syndrome to “combat those moments. Keep going.” Inspired by a friend and mentor, that’s what he did, and he’s excited to pay it forward. “Because others have helped me,” he said, “I will do the same for others.”