Debora – who spent her childhood in shelters, on the street, and walking around parks instead of going to elementary school – was pregnant at 14. She had her baby when she was a sophomore in high school. She returned to school after giving birth to find that she had all Fs. But she wasn’t defeated. In fact, she worked hard, despite sleepless nights with the baby, to bring all those grades back up to As. In the same year, she attended a presentation about STEP. Most of her friends dismissed it, but she recognized it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I wasn’t going to let this chance pass me by, just because I was a teenage mom.”
When she was accepted to the program, Debora didn’t think she would be able to go on the expedition because of her young son. But a year into the college-prep program, she realized “it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss” and she found herself packing for Alaska.
A wilderness expedition is challenging for all students, but it was particularly difficult for Debora who was missing a month with her infant. “I remember the first week I was really sad. It was difficult. It was so cold. It was a whole new place – a whole new world. There were so many things to do each morning to even get going. And my usual support team – my family – wasn’t there. But in the end, I thought, ‘I’m doing this for my son and I will get through this.’ I got through it day-by-day.”
She used this strategy to finish high school and apply to college. After the birth of her son, Debora was determined to pursue higher education so she could make a good living for her family. She wondered, though, how she would pay for it. STEP introduced her to opportunities for financial aid. She ultimately secured the Arizona Assurance Scholarship, which covered her college costs.
Now Debora is on-track to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Studies and Human Development. She’s already applied to pursue a Master's in Accounting at the University of Arizona, University of North Carolina, and Vanderbilt University. But “success” for Debora extends far beyond herself. Her son, now in first grade, does his homework while Debora does her own. She reads to him every night and teaches him his numbers and colors. “My son will grow up remembering me in college, and knowing that he should go to college too.”