Daniela Velez immigrated from Caracas, Venezuela, to the United States in 2012. Brimming with a thirst for knowledge and untapped entrepreneurial potential, Velez sought to make the most of this opportunity.
Navigating the American higher education terrain as an international student can be complicated and littered with unexpected roadblocks. Velez knew this well when she enrolled at Rowan College at Burlington County (RCBC) as an undocumented student. However, she eventually applied for and was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which helped to ease the transition.
“RCBC staff gave me the time of day and helped me figure things out. I eventually qualified for in-state tuition and was given the support I needed to finish my degree,” Velez recalled.
During her time at RCBC, Velez participated in and won the college category in the Startup Stars competition, which invites entrepreneurs of all ages to compete for an opportunity to launch their original business/product idea. Her group presented Newton’s Bench, a kit that offers a full college-level science laboratory experience to students who are unable to use a traditional laboratory environment. Not only did this experience increase her business savvy, but it also provided her a source of income to allocate toward tuition.
She earned her associate’s degree in business administration in 2016. Now, an office administrator at the N.J. Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Velez assists with various administrative tasks, grant research and writing.
“Our goal is to expand and support not just the Latino business community, but minority communities as well. Being in the organization has allowed me to use what I learned at RCBC while making connections that continue to help me in my career development and goals,” Velez shared. “RCBC had actually benefited me even before working at the chamber, as it allowed me to work with other nonprofit organizations that have recognized my value and experience.”
A staunch advocate for immigrant rights, Velez passionately devotes her time to her community and supports initiatives that increase opportunities for those who are underrepresented. Currently finishing up her bachelor’s degree in public policy with a minor in gender studies at Rutgers University, she hopes to continue her graduate studies and eventually secure a position in government affairs. Her ultimate goal, however, is to circle back to education and become a professor.
“I know that as a Latina, an immigrant and a woman, we lack representation and students need to see themselves. It’s been a journey, but I am thankful that it all started at RCBC, and it has allowed me to create and shape the path that I am following now,” Velez said.