Emerson M., 27, Menlo Park, CA, Born in Lima, Peru
As an entrepreneur from Peru, I came to San Francisco when I was 17 to attend college, intent on studying computer engineering. My mom, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was already in the States. I worked at two jobs to pay for school, but this economic stress was nothing compared to what came next. After graduation, I had one more year on my visa and I made the most of the time by earning the Apple WWDC scholarship and launching my first start-up, inClass. These accomplishments didn’t matter with my visa deadline looming in May 2011. Thankfully, I was able to get a 17-month STEM visa extension, which allowed me to grow my company and provide three million students with an organizational tool for enhancing their college work.
After successfully launching inClass, I turned my attention to solving the surprising lack of connectivity among a social-media savvy generation somehow unable to fully connect with their classmates on a daily basis. When I co-founded StudyRoom, its purpose was to allow students to collaborate in their learning efforts — to share knowledge and resources. Just when StudyRoom was taking off, I was faced with another visa expiration date.
I was unsuccessful in securing another visa extension and a green card was years away. When I turned to immigration experts, I was told I had run out of options. With only 24 hours left on my visa, I found out about the O-1 visa which is hard to get. I gave it a shot and submitted my application right as my visa was expiring. It took an agonizing three months for me to find out my status. But I did qualify for the 0-1, which allowed me to remain in the country and build my company for another three years.
This semester, StudyRoom launched in 100 universities, reaching almost half-a-million students, who can now through my innovation, enjoy social, personalized attention that helps them learn more. I see this as the beginning of my mission of closing the achievement gap through the equalizing power of education.
I don’t think a piece of paper defines who you are or how you’re able to live your life. My goal is to improve education and create jobs in my own business ventures. I intend to give back to my country professionally and through volunteering, by mentoring minority students. I want all Latinos to realize we can do big things. Everything I know I learned in this country and everything I am grew out of my experiences here. I can’t imagine having to abandon everything I’ve achieved so far. I’m making America a better place and I want to continue to do my part.