The decision by young people to continue their education after high school graduation can transform their lives. For members of the Latino Cohort at Western Nevada College, embracing the importance of education in their future not only improves their own lives, but also spreads to the larger community. Members of the Latino Cohort and former students have volunteered to return to their former high schools and elementary schools to spread the message that college is possible, and a proven route to success.
“These students are making a positive difference in our community. It’s a tremendous impact,” said WNC’s Lupe Ramirez, coordinator of Latino Outreach. “They are getting something good out of their education and they want to pass it along to other kids that haven’t heard about college. The students enjoy the opportunity to talk about their college experiences and hope that other students follow their footsteps.”
WNC established the cohort in 2010 as a student support program to increase course completion and degree success among Latino students. Members of the group recently visited Dayton High School to encourage students to attend college. They also offered testimonials to Latino parents of Empire Elementary School students in Carson City.
Ramirez said that bringing WNC’s Latino students along on her outreach visits makes the presentations more effective. The parents receive hope and inspiration for their children.
“The younger students look up to the students from the college. They get inspired when they listen to their testimonials,” Ramirez said. “They definitely listen to the message, and it gives them hope to see Latino students succeed in college.”
Carson High School graduate Teresa Soto, a pre-nursing student at WNC, discovered how empowering that role could be during one of the cohort’s recent speaking engagements.
“They see that we are succeeding and doing something with our lives. That is a good example when students and parents see us volunteering and talking to them and letting them know about our journey that we have gone through at the college,” Soto said. “If it wasn’t for the peer mentors, I don’t think I would be doing good in classes. They push you to do well in your classes and not to give up. Our mentors don’t hold our hand, but they motivate us to do well.”
At Empire Elementary School, the WNC students spoke to parents of third through fifth-graders. They also volunteered in the day-care center and interacted with the children.
During her testimonial, Maria Diaz said that she explained the support system that is in place at WNC.
“There is help here and the college is not just throwing them into college and seeing how they do,” Diaz said. “There are people here that can help you achieve and graduate on time and get your degree and do bigger things.”
Latino parents also learn from the presenters that their children will not become isolated because of language differences.
“We let the parents know not to be afraid to let the students come here because I know most of them don’t speak English, and they feel that coming to college, they don’t have anyone to talk to and there is a language barrier,” Diaz said. “Knowing that there is the Latino Cohort program has bilingual staff, the parents actually feel comfortable coming to the campus.”
Diaz said she was uncertain about where to attend college after graduating from Dayton High School. But she realized that WNC was the place for her after participating in the Bridge to Success program, which assists students with college admissions, financial aid, placement testing and student orientation.
“It helped me out so much, step by step with everything,” she said. “Now, I’m here as the Peer Academic Coach for the cohort students.”
Diaz graduated from WNC last May and is studying finance at the University of Nevada, Reno. She works as a peer academic coach at WNC.
Listening to the testimonials of Latinos who are now enrolled in college made them instant role models in the eyes of parents with children in local primary schools.
“The parents saw hope, and we even had a parent ask if we could talk to her son to motivate him because he is not thinking about going to college,” Ramirez said.
Soto said that the cohort testimonials also provide incentive for Latino parents to consider attending WNC.
“It makes them open their eyes and be like, ‘Wow, if she can do, I can do it,’” Soto said. “There’s never a certain age when you can’t attend college. People think just because they are 30 or 25, they don’t want to go to college because they feel like they are too old. That’s not the point; the point is, do it for yourself and strive for a better life.”
Ramirez said the cohort instills many qualities in students to help them succeed in whatever direction their education takes them.
“Students from the Latino Cohort have been very active during their first semester in college,” Ramirez said. “Many of them are committed to the ‘15 to Finish’ concept of enrolling in 15 course credits each semester. They are working hard to keep up with their workload in hopes that they can complete their classes successfully.”
The cohort also demonstrates to students that they can influence others to go to college and work toward a better life.
“At first, I was scared when Lupe told me that I was going to talk in front of the parents,” Soto said. “I never talked in front of parents before, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But when I was talking to them, it felt like I was just talking to my mom normally. At the end, they asked lots of questions, and they made me feel good by congratulating me on what I’m doing and where I’m headed in my life. That part pretty much boosted my confidence, and I want to do this again. One day, I want to influence someone in their life to be the first one in their family to go to college.”
Ramirez said that the long-range goal is to reach out to all of the schools in WNC’s service area, but for now, the cohort program is targeted on Carson City High School and Dayton High School.