WNC hosts its first-ever Latino Community Day | NevadaAppeal.com

WNC hosts its first-ever Latino Community Day

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer

More than 50 prospective Western Nevada College students arrived at the school’s Carson City campus Saturday to hear what opportunities may lie before them if they pursue a degree at the school.

And what they heard, they liked.

For many, it was the first time the opportunity for college had been presented to them. For many, college was never even a dream. For many, it was the first time stepping onto a college campus.

Nerves, looks of uncertainty and feelings of being out of place soon faded as WNC volunteers and presenters began making a case for further education – in Spanish.

“Todo es posible,” said WNC student Elizabeth Contreras, before fielding applause from an audience prior to leading a small group on a campus tour.

Contreras, whose parents emigrated here from Nicaragua when she was a toddler, said her story is a “typical” of a first-generation Northern Nevadan.

She told her tale twice, in English and Spanish, to the throng of captivated attendees at the school’s first-ever Latino Community Day.

“I grew up, went to CHS, but was not really motivated in school – I didn’t stand out,” she said. “I wanted to be done so I started taking college classes in high school.

“I started to be on campus a little more and felt like I fit in a little more. Someone suggested I run for student office, I thought ‘I can’t do this’ – I’d never been involved in anything. But I did it. And now, I want to help people.”

Carson High math teacher Debbie Elder encouraged her students to check out the college Saturday. It was Contreras’ story she hoped will serve as “motivation.”

“Here’s this little girl that kind of gets lost in her education,” she said. “She comes here and now she’s leading tours of a college campus. How about that?”

Carson high senior Arnie Zeledon, 17, said he came to the community day because his “uncle made him.” Midway through the tour of campus, Zeledon became animated about his prospects at the school.

“I’m going to come here next year for sure,” he said. “I need to get my basics done and then I want to go to UNR and major in communications.

“I want to work with special ed kids.”

When asked if he thought college would be an immediate prospect, Zeledon was circumspect:

“This is a really nice school,” he said. “It’s a place I can see myself.”

School officials said 445 of its 6,000 enrolled students last year were Latino – about nine percent.

“Our president wants to up that number to reflect the population at-large in the community,” said Katie Leao, WNC’s outreach coordinator. “We’re reaching out to middle and high school students and their parents.”

According to a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau report, about 18.5 percent of Carson City residents were Latino.

Leao said it is “never too early, or too late” to think about attending the school.

“A lot of parents may not see their kids going to college, much less themselves,” she said. “But we’ve got a solid group of students who’ve come from similar backgrounds and are able to share their stories.

“They did it, so it is possible.”

Contreras was one of 30 student volunteers, most bilingual, to share testimonials and answer questions about campus life, Everything from the quality of cafeteria food (“it’s really good, and a lot is organic,” she said) to campus amenities (“our workout facility is a big bonus”) – she said the breadth of what the college has to offer is what “may surprise some.”

“What surprised me is the amount of ways I could get involved, and that’s how these experiences become good ones. I learned there are people to help the whole way through, you just need to take the first step.”

• Contact reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.