UC Berkeley Senior Frida Calvo Huerta helps undocumented students get into their dream schools and navigate Berkeley

June 21, 2024

UC Berkeley Interdisciplinary Studies major Frida Calvo Huerta, a first-generation Mexican immigrant, came to the U.S. at a young age with her family. Her hard work and commitment to academics helped her get into UC Berkeley. Reflecting on the arduous journey it took to study at UC Berkeley as an undocumented student, she founded the UndocuScholars Program, which helps other undocumented students successfully get through the UC admission process, including navigating college as first-generation undocumented students. The free 10-month virtual program, which includes mentorship by an undocumented Cal student, also helps high school seniors and transfer students navigate the process of applying for financial aid and scholarships, as well as equipping them with the necessary social capital to transition them to college.  

Calvo Huerta spoke with Berkeley Social Sciences recently about her journey and the UndocuScholars Program and her mentor in Social Sciences. Her interview is edited and paraphrased for clarity. 

Tell us more about your background and how you ended up at UC Berkeley?

Frida Calvo Huerta: I am a first-generation college student and immigrant. I moved from Mexico when I was nine to San Francisco with my family. Growing up, I had a lot of mentors that went to UC Berkeley and they would tell me “you would love Berkeley,” but I had no idea what UC Berkeley was. However, Berkeley soon became my dream school! Being first-generation, my parents didn't know anything about the college system here, so I figured it out myself. But when I was applying to college, I didn't know any other undocumented students in my high school, much less in college. I felt like the only one, but I was determined to accomplish my dream of higher education in this country. I am fortunate to have found nonprofit organizations like Immigrants Rising and ScholarMatch in San Francisco that helped me through this process and that I had created a whole support network of mentors that encouraged and helped me get into Berkeley!

As an Interdisciplinary Studies major, my Berkeley Social Sciences courses in anthropology, Chicane/Latine Studies, history, sociology, and cognitive science have been foundational to creating a holistic perspective of public health. I've been able to develop a multicultural understanding of public health inequities, which has been really important in shaping my theoretical framework for research. I met my mentor Anthropology Professor Andrew “Andy” Wooyoung Kim through his Psychoneuroendocrinology (biological anthropology) course in Spring 2023. 

His course opened my eyes to how oppression and trauma gets embodied, and how the biological and social sciences can work together to advance social justice through interdisciplinary research. He invited me to join his lab and encouraged me to conduct evaluation research on UndocuScholars, even when my program didn't exist yet. He has been my faculty mentor for UC Berkeley’s Firebaugh Scholars and now for the Haas Scholars Program.

Can you tell us what the UndocuScholars Program is? 

Frida Calvo Huerta: UndocuScholars is a peer mentorship program I created to help  undocumented students apply to 4-year colleges. I'm the founder and director, and it's run by me and my team of five other undocumented UC Berkeley students. We are currently wrapping up our pilot cohort, and the goal is to create a pipeline to help undocumented students apply, attend and thrive in college. It is a 10-month program where we meet both in person and online to help with drafting college applications, applying to financial aid and scholarships, touring schools and transitioning to college. I am grateful to have had lots of mentors lead me through this confusing and daunting experience, so I wanted to create a program to give undocumented students the same positive experience I had!

What universities have students been accepted to with your help?

Frida Calvo Huerta: We are deeply proud to share that almost all of our students got accepted into UC Berkeley for Fall 2024! Our Berkeley admittance rate is close to 70%! Additionally, all of our students are getting full rides and some winning the Regents' and Chancellor's scholarships. Three of our students got early admission into Berkeley, which is super rare, given that only around 1,900 of admitted students a year hear back early! Out of our eleven students, five accepted their spot at UC Berkeley, some of whom will be pursuing degrees in psychology and other social sciences departments.

Other schools that our students have been admitted to are: UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, San Jose State, CSU East Bay, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Long Beach, San Francisco State University, Dominican University, Santa Clara University, Whittier College and University of Redlands. 

More than half our students got accepted into all the schools they applied to, give or take one or two options. All of our students got accepted into all the CSUs they applied to. The major interests in our cohort range from nursing, medicine, neuroscience, law, aerospace engineering, computer science, psychology, education and entrepreneurship. 

One of our students, who did not receive acceptance into Berkeley, is currently negotiating a full ride at a private school in Los Angeles, so she can pursue aerospace engineering. Another one of our students who received acceptances to every school, including early acceptance to Berkeley, also got accepted into Dominican University’s 4.5-year nursing program with a full ride scholarship. 

I would also like to share that one of our mentors, Alma Rodriguez — a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient student and parent, who recently graduated with her Berkeley sociology degree — was accepted into graduate programs at Columbia University, Harvard University and Stanford University! She will be attending Stanford for her Ph.D. in Sociology of Education with a prestigious Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Fellowship! I am overjoyed to share our community’s successes! Learn more about Alma’s story: Achieving the Dream: A newly minted UC Berkeley grad juggled motherhood and academics to earn her bachelor's degree

Can you please share the mental health effects and outcomes you have studied from individuals participating in this peer mentorship program?

Frida Calvo Huerta: Through the Firebaugh Scholars Program, I have been doing evaluation research on the experiences of both the mentors and mentees, specifically focusing on mental health and how their participation in UndocuScholars has affected them. Both the mentors and mentees have described their participation in UndocuScholars as transformational and deeply affirming. 

For most of our cohort, it was the first time they ever met another undocumented person, and the first time for everyone to be in a community where despite the barriers placed upon us for our status, we are all striving to accomplish our educational and career aspirations. What was emphasized the most was how crucial it is to have a community that has your back and will guide you to defy the odds to attend college as an undocumented student. Both the mentors and mentees have talked a lot about the community aspects of the program, sharing that this is the safest they have ever felt and could share things they have never told anyone, and are coming into their own identities and feeling confident.

The mentors describe this as a really wonderful opportunity as it is very difficult as undocumented individuals to gain paid professional experience through internships and jobs, and it is hard to find a community of other undocumented students, where you can feel seen and heard as an equal. The mentees also described feeling safe and accepted for the first time, and also empowered to achieve their goals. Multiple mentees shared that they feel at peace, now knowing they have a guaranteed path to their aspirations, as they got accepted into their dream schools with full rides. 

What is your proudest achievement with UndocuScholars?

Frida Calvo Huerta: I am really proud of the personal growth everyone in our program has experienced. When I first met the mentees they all had an air of hesitation over the whole idea of applying to college, but now they have come into a new confidence and assurance of themselves. I am also very proud of the fact that I have simply just inspired other undocumented students to strive for things that they thought were not possible due to their legal status. 

What are your goals for the future of the UndocuScholars program?

Frida Calvo Huerta: We are on track to expand our program capacity from 10 to 50 students and 5 to 10 mentors this coming summer for our second cohort. My goal is to expand the program across the UC system, CSUs and all 4-year universities. We, undocumented students, deserve the same opportunities any other student gets to pursue our education. Additionally, I will continue my research evaluating how my program serves as an educational and public health intervention through the Haas Scholars program this coming year, and through graduate school. I will be pursuing my Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree at Berkeley School of Public Health after my undergrad to keep improving UndocuScholars as a mental health intervention. It will be exciting to expand our program offerings as more of our students attend their universities, then become alumni and start their careers! 

Frida Calvo Huerta, UC Berkeley Interdisciplinary Studies major and founder of the UndocuScholars Program. 

Mentors and mentees from the UndocuScholars Program pilot cohort meeting for the first time in person during a campus visit.

Frida Calvo Huerta presenting the preliminary findings from her year-long evaluation research project on UndocuScholars at the Firebaugh Scholars Symposium.

Frida Calvo Huerta recruiting for the second cohort during a day-long outreach event at the Farmworker Convention in Pescadero, California.