Online training site helps undocumented students

A Charlotte-area nonprofit that drew national attention in 2012 for starting a scholarship program for the children of undocumented immigrants has expanded its mission to include a new online Web design and development school for immigrant students.

Called TechWorks, the initiative launches Wednesday and is open to undocumented immigrant youths who recently graduated from high school in the Charlotte area.

It will be an extension of the Golden Door Scholars program created by Ric Elias, co-founder of the Red Ventures Internet marketing firm in Fort Mill, S.C. To date, Golden Door Scholars has funded full scholarships for 30 high-performing students through private donations and partnerships forged with 10 top colleges and universities.

The scholarships are for undocumented students from the Carolinas who aren’t eligible for most college financial aid programs and are required to pay out-of-state tuition, which is as much as four times higher than in-state rates.

Elias said he envisions TechWorks as another alternative for such students to find success after high school without having to get a four-year degree.

“We were overwhelmed by applicants for Golden Door Scholars and it broke our hearts to have to say no to nearly 1,000 outstanding students destined for minimum wage jobs,” Elias said in a statement. “We knew we had to find a scalable way to help more of these students fulfill their potential.”

Students accepted into TechWorks will receive online education through Treehouse.com, which is working with Red Ventures to develop a curriculum. Red Ventures anticipates as many as 500 students will apply to be part of the program.

Top performers who qualify for employment will be placed directly into technology jobs at Red Ventures, officials said.

“This program is an innovative way to meet employer needs while also helping qualified students who would otherwise fall through the cracks because they can’t afford a degree,” said James Huston, a senior software engineer at Red Ventures and the technology director for TechWorks.

Red Ventures, which has a campus in the Indian Land area, had a net increase of 400 jobs in the region last year, after it landed deals with AT&T, National General Insurance and Verizon.

Last month, the company announced it plans to hire 580 workers in North Carolina and is making plans to spin off tech startups by the end of 2018.

Experts say the Golden Door Scholars program is a rarity: a multistate scholarship for undocumented students that not only covers all four years at college (including room and board), but helps with internships and job placement.

Elias provided more than $1 million to fund scholarships for undocumented students in 2012, and he offered in 2013 to match up to $1 million more in donations from the community. To date, $350,000 has been given by private donors to meet his challenge.