How Dustin Dacuan is making college more accessible

Dec 10, 2020 | Blog, Stories

Dustin Dacuan, speaking at an advocacy day in Olympia in 2018

As the Regional Director of College Readiness for Summit Public Schools in Washington, Dustin Dacuan is focused on creating a supportive system that allows students to adopt a college-ready mindset. For Summit Public Schools, there is the unwavering belief that scholars can achieve their dreams and succeed in college and beyond. Summit scholars enter school with a supportive staff and faculty ready to shepherd them through their high school curriculum with an eye towards college. Dustin is there to ensure that each scholar has the right tools to apply and pay for their college or university program.

Meet Dustin

Dustin and his siblings were the first generation in their family to go to college and his story is what motivates him to lift up today’s scholars who share similar experiences.

Dustin grew up in Skyway, just south of Seattle. His high school was the most culturally and socioeconomically diverse in his district at the time. He grew up with limited resources in a family that didn’t know much about school systems or college processes, much like many of his peers. When visiting other high schools, he saw other students with access to computers and technology that he didn’t have at his own school. “My interest in equity stemmed from that experience,” said Dustin.

In high school, Dustin saw how effective college access mentorship was when he participated in the University of Washington Dream Project, a service-learning course that supports lower-income students in the Puget Sound region with college access and near-peer mentorship. He credits this program with his knowledge of college access and ongoing interest in sharing that knowledge for others. This is why he joined the UW Dream project as an undergraduate student at UW.

“This was an important experience for me to think about how to support other students with similar backgrounds to mine,” said Dustin. “I was interested in providing opportunities for kids to get this information.”

Inspired to continue working with kids, Dustin went on to attend the University of Massachusetts where he earned his teaching credentials. He was also a resident in the Boston Teacher Residency and worked in Boston Public Schools. His goal was to return to Seattle and support scholars in his hometown. “I wanted to support scholars with backgrounds like mine, from neighborhoods like mine,” said Dustin. “I wanted to make sure that everyone had equal opportunity in my home community.” Eventually, he found his way back as a teacher at Summit Sierra.

“I was sold when I learned about the one-to-one ratio of laptops for students – which is now a basic necessity, but then a real step in equity,” said Dustin about Summit Public Schools. “I was also really jazzed about the 100% college access program, which I had never seen before.”

College Access at Summit

“When I came to Summit, I saw a school invested in getting to know scholars and their families,” said Dustin. “It was also a place that has an unfaltering belief that every scholar deserves the opportunity to succeed and get where they want to be.”

Dustin came to Summit Sierra as an English teacher and had a mentor group that he supported for four years. For Seniors at Summit schools, mentorship focuses on college access and supports for applications, acceptance, financial aid, and preparation for success in a collegiate program. Given his history of navigating college access and earlier mentorship, Dustin was able to guide his scholars with a real-world understanding of the college process. However, he felt that his role was too split between serving as an educator and ensuring college access. 

When a position opened at Summit to focus on providing technical tools and supports for college processes, Dustin felt it was an ideal fit. He views this role as a means of supporting both scholars on their collegebound journeys and the Summit faculty who now have an additional resource to help scholars achieve their dreams.

Today, Dustin prepares resources and trainings for all Summit schools in Washington. He works with faculty members to provide them the tools they need to support the unique needs of each of their scholars. “The mentors know their scholars best,” said Dustin. “So, they will take the materials I prepare and tailor them to each scholar to make them relevant and helpful.”

Dustin also holds drop-in office hours to support scholars one-on-one as needed, and he collaborates with state universities to build partnerships that provided more access points for scholars, like on the spot admissions events. For Dustin, all of this work is intended first and foremost to get every scholar to fully embrace the idea that they can get to college. 

“My goal is to create opportunities for scholars to change their mindset around college,” said Dustin. “There are a lot of concerns and unknowns for scholars coming in. We want them to feel good about the process, to feel confident. This helps them build a college-bound mindset.”

In one recollection, Dustin shares that he helped a scholar work through financial aid paperwork, including the FAFSA and WAFSA. That process revealed that the scholar was eligible for a full financial aid package and that their family would not be required to contribute. This changed the scholar’s entire outlook. At first, finances were a looming concern that disengaged the scholar from the college process. But with the support and guidance from Dustin and the Summit faculty, the scholar felt that a door had been opened – they could really go to college.

With the help of Summit staff and faculty, scholars have successfully entered college at impressively high rates. To date, Summit Sierra and Summit Olympus have achieved a 99 percent college acceptance rate.

Why College Access?

Dustin is determined to change processes around college access to ensure that systems and resources are equitable for scholars. He also wants to make sure that every teacher and faculty feel truly supported with college access resources, so that they can focus on doing their best work in the classroom. Embracing this new role, Dustin sees himself as a key to building a more robust system for Summit scholars to access college.

Why is this important? “College unlocks opportunity,” said Dustin. “In the long term, I hope that scholars continue to earn degrees or go on to pursue their particular dreams and build opportunities to bring them and their families forward.”

Economic and career mobility is only one part of the equation. While COVID-19 has shuttered many chances for scholars to build their social and emotional connections after high school, Dustin is hopeful that scholars will continue to find meaningful experiences in college settings. He wants scholars to see college as a worthy investment where they not only gain a degree, but also discover themselves in the process, just as he did.

A Radical Idea

“The idea that all scholars can go to college is radical,” said Dustin. “This is not a vision that is shared in so many schools. At Summit, we put effort into building scholars to that moment. You have to be unapologetic in this belief.”

“This is how we do right by our scholars,” he continues. “My goal is to always grow in my commitment to that unwavering belief so I can champion it.”