A Habitat kid teaches Harvard a thing or two

Ana Barros has a message for other low-income kids at Harvard. We belong here. Even more than that, Harvard can learn from us.

The rising senior is founding member and president of theHarvard College First Generation Student Union, formed two years ago to help undergraduate students whose parents didn’t go to college thrive at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions.

Many of the students who come wide-eyed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from all over the country also happen to be from low-income families. They are beneficiaries of a financial aid initiative that Harvard began a decade ago to remove financial barriers to an education that now runs $60,000 annually. Today, 15 percent of Harvard’s undergraduates are “first gens,” as the students call themselves.

Opening the red brick gates of Harvard to low-income kids is one thing. Creating an environment where those kids prosper academically — and maybe more important, socially — is a little trickier, as both the university and students are discovering.

“Everyone who is admitted can do the work. It’s the other stuff that can get in the way,” Ana says. “I see it as my duty to make this campus as inclusive as it can be and to challenge Harvard to live up to its mission of being a leader in socioeconomic diversity.”

To understand where Ana is coming from, it’s important to understand her roots.

She grew up in a Habitat home in Newark, New Jersey. Her Colombian parents came to the United States seeking a better life. Ana’s father, Dario, is a janitor at a school for troubled youth while her mother, Eucaris, stayed home to raise the couple’s four girls. Ana’s mom has battled health problems over the years, including breast cancer. Money was a constant stressor, Ana recalls, and there wasn’t much talk of college. “I always did well in school, but I wasn’t working toward the goal of getting into college. I didn’t know what I was working toward.”

To read the full Habitat World article, click here.