Ariel Ventura-Lazo obtained his Associate of Science degree in Business Administration at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and is currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Psychology at George Mason University. Ariel is a proud father of two, first-generation American, and passionate post-secondary education and social justice advocate. He was the first in his family to attend college.
Ariel’s story is one of overcoming the odds. Coming from a poor, first-generation household and a fatherless home, Ariel was a teen father and almost dropped out of high school and college. At times he was on the verge of eviction, homelessness, and even starvation as he balanced college, parenting, and caring for his family, but emerged triumphant both academically and as a community leader and advocate for social justice.
Ariel has helped his peers through several grassroots efforts in his time as a student and an employee at NOVA, facilitating College Access workshops and Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) workshops at regional community hubs throughout Northern Virginia to help non-traditional new and returning students gain access to postsecondary education.
As an exemplar student parent in college and a leader in his community, Ariel was recruited to serve as a Parent Advisor for the Aspen Institute's Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative. He developed strategies for practitioners and policymakers from across the nation, working to increase student-parent postsecondary success and co-launched and led the Parent Powered Solutions Fund, the first ever student parent-led fund for organizations dedicated to supporting student parents like himself, which granted $150,000 in funds to six non-profit organizations imbuing student-parent voice in their student success models. He shared the unique opportunity of working with 10 other student-parent colleagues to launch "1 in 5", an immersive student-parent podcast production that profiled the 22% of students pursuing their education nationwide while raising a family and working.
Ariel is also a motivational speaker at various high schools and colleges that serve at-risk students including teen parents, first-generation Americans, and undocumented students, encouraging and uplifting hundreds of students and staff in his time by sharing the challenges and triumphs of his journey. He has spoken twice alongside Michelle Obama at her Reach Higher ‘Beating the Odds’ Summit, gained national recognition and was featured in The Washington Post, Fox Five, and NBC.
Ariel has been awarded multiple scholarships for demonstrating exceptional leadership on campus and in the community regarding service, advocacy, and community engagement. This includes the Generation Hope Scholar of the Year award for outstanding academic achievement and leadership while overcoming significant challenges in postsecondary education.
He aims to continue making a positive social impact on parenting students, fathers, children, and families with his new social-impact business, Foundation Fatherhood.
Ariel has recently been selected as an inaugural Advising Success Network (ASN) Fellow, helping to advance equity, social justice, student affairs, and advising across campuses to improve institutional retention and completion rates of disadvantaged students.