Undocumented, first-generation Marymount student receives Newman Civic Fellowship

Undocumented, first-generation Marymount student receives Newman Civic Fellowship


Karla Mercado Dorado, a junior at Marymount University, has been selected to receive Campus Compact’s 2023-2024 Newman Civic Fellowship. She is one of 154 civic leaders from 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico who form this year’s cohort and are recognized for their outstanding commitment to creating positive change in communities locally and around the world.

Originally from Bolivia, Mercado Dorado moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was just two years old. Despite her acceptances to several colleges, a higher education seemed out of reach for her as financial aid was nearly nonexistent as an undocumented student. However, she discovered TheDream.US scholarship, of which Marymount is a partner school. She arrived on campus in Fall 2020 and is now majoring in Biochemistry with a pre-medicine minor.

Undocumented, first-generation Marymount student Mercado Dorado with her mother in Marymount's Reinsch Auditorium
Mercado Dorado with her mother in Marymount’s Reinsch Auditorium

“Marymount told me from the start that it would be a supportive environment for me to continue my education as an undocumented individual,” Mercado Dorado said. “During my time here, I have committed to uplifting marginalized voices on campus and building safe spaces for underrepresented students.”

She has accomplished that through joining the executive boards of Marymount’s Latinx Student Association and Saints Unafraid, the University’s immigrant rights advocacy organization, during her first year in college. Since then, she helped lead the latter organization’s rebranding to promote inclusivity and intersectionality within the immigrant community.

In Summer 2021, Mercado Dorado represented Marymount’s undocumented student population at a ceremonial signing event held on campus with former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for a bill that made all Virginia students eligible for state financial aid if they are eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Outside of Marymount, she is an active member of the regional chapter of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation.

“As a community organizer and youth leader, I share my story of being an undocumented first-generation student in the U.S. in hopes of mobilizing impacted youth and allies to advocate for the rights of the undocumented community as a whole,” Mercado Dorado added. “I advocate for the rights of the entire immigrant community, including the most marginalized, in order to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.”

The Newman Civic Fellowship is named for the late Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and a tireless advocate for civic engagement in higher education. In the spirit of Dr. Newman’s leadership, Campus Compact member presidents and chancellors nominate student leaders from their campuses to be named Newman Civic Fellows.

Undocumented, first-generation Marymount student Mercado Dorado with her mother in Marymount's Reinsch Auditorium
Mercado Dorado with President Becerra and fellow Marymount Dreamer Andrea Anaya-Sandoval

“Karla is passionate about social justice and immigrant rights, and works to raise the profile of the issues faced by immigrant students on campus as well as heighten the consciousness of her peers, staff and faculty regarding these issues,” explained Dr. Irma Becerra, President of Marymount University. “In addition, she engages with important community partners in the struggle for immigrant rights across the DMV region. She has collaborated with a diverse set of community-based and social service organizations, and she continues to work to empower others to be catalysts for change through grassroots activism.”

Through the Newman Civic Fellowship, Campus Compact provides these students with a year of learning and networking opportunities that emphasize personal, professional and civic growth. Each year, Fellows participate in numerous virtual training and networking opportunities that provide them with the skills and connections they need to create large-scale positive change. The cornerstone of the Fellowship is the Annual Convening of Fellows, which offers intensive skill-building and networking over the course of two days. The Fellowship also provides Fellows with pathways to apply for exclusive scholarship and post-graduate opportunities.

“We are honored to recognize such an outstanding group of community-committed students,” said Bobbie Laur, President of Campus Compact. “One of the best parts of the Newman Civic Fellowships is the richness of students’ perspectives, experiences and backgrounds – and how these varied stories all led to their passionate engagement with the social, political and environmental issues impacting our world. These students will be the catalysts for change on many levels, and we are privileged to help empower them to create that change.”

Click here to learn more about the Newman Civic Fellowship. For a complete list of all the student leaders selected for this year’s cohort, click here.