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Paola Pardo

(Miami Dade College)

There was never any doubt in Paola Pardo’s mind she was going to go to college.

Her mom is a telemarketer. “She’s the best saleswoman ever. She can sell anything to anyone,” says Paola. But there wasn’t enough money for college. After high school, Paola she found a job as a dog groomer, earning $9 an hour.

“I never have a bad day at work working with cute puppies all day.”

After two years’ work, she started Miami Dade College last semester. She’s taking five classes and finished the first semester with a 3.5 GPA.

She wants to get a four-year degree and become a veterinarian. “I have to get good grades,” she says. “The University of Florida has one of the top vet schools in the country.”

Paola, who is now 21, came to Miami from Colombia when she was 7, when her mother left her marriage and they both came to the U.S. At first they thought they could get an official status. But Sept. 11, 2001, disrupted immigration applications.

“I can’t complain,” she says. “A lot of people told me they get depressed or it is too hard or they felt like they wanted to go back. I felt normal. My mom said, ‘We are going to figure it out. No big deal.’”

A top official at the school found some money so she could attend her first semester. TheDream.US scholarship will help her finish all the rest. “I love animals. I want to become a wildlife veterinarian, and travel and live in Australia,” she says.