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Helping Hispanic Students Achieve College

2020 Hispanic Student College Institute pivots to online sessions, ongoing support

Posted in: Hispanic Initiatives, University

Now in its fourth year, the Hispanic Student College Institute (HSCI), created by Montclair State University to help Hispanic students strengthen their path to college, took on a new look to deal with a new reality.

“We moved from a residential, face-to-face, people sleeping in dorms on campus to a complete virtual program” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, explains Katia Paz Goldfarb, assistant vice president for Hispanic Serving Initiatives, who ran the Institute this summer July 14-July 16, with three 3-hour online sessions for students as well as corresponding evening bilingual sessions for parents.

“This is a dream that we had to open a program that would be free to every single Hispanic/Latinx rising junior and senior in high school, to give them access to the information that is so critical when they apply to college,” says Paz Goldfarb.

The Institute benefited from the support of a State Farm Good Neighbor Citizen Gift secured by University Trustee Mary A. Comito, a State Farm agent.

During the sessions, students learned everything from navigating the academic experience to the process of applying to college. “How do you fill out the FAFSA? How do you help your parents do that? What about financial aid? How do you transition to college? What if you want to change your major or minor? What is the residential piece?” says Paz Goldfarb.

Although high schoolers missed experiencing life on campus, going virtual with HSCI presented opportunities.

For example, all interested students were accepted this year, with the no application process, fee or letters of recommendation needed.

In addition, for the first time, the University is offering a month of followup HSCI workshops – through August 14 – for students to interact with faculty, staff, advisors, department chairs and representatives from corporations and organizations. State Farm, Univision and the Latin American Student Organization will be sponsoring workshops.

And the virtual HSCI was able to reach more parents.

“We take care of the whole family,” says Paz Goldfarb, who noted that previous programs were only able to serve parents who could take the day off to drive their students to campus. “We are Latinos and we know how important the family is. The family is going to decide.”

One parent who contacted Paz Goldfarb via email was representative of the response: “Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to sign up for your virtual program. The Zoom meetings for parents were so informative. Have been and will continue to tell everyone about this wonderful program.”

The peer mentors aspect of the program is among the most popular of the Institute. Many of the mentors once attended HSCI themselves.

Brielle Rojas, a junior studying Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Public Health, helped mentor the students. “I understand the challenges throughout the high school-college transition. I was a part of this program when I was in high school and my HSCI peer mentor assured my decision to attend Montclair State due to the positive outlook on diversity on campus.”

Rojas has been able to adapt and obtain tools that helped her mentor others. “I am proud to be a part of a program that guides students into a solid future for themselves and their careers.”

Rojas – along with fellow peer mentors Chelsea Huertas, Jess Terrones, Audrey Vargas-Cruz and Will Dominguez – were able to answer questions via a virtual panel. The group will also be available to students after the initial sessions.

Students enjoyed online presentations and sessions by motivational speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez (keynote); Assistant Dean for Administrative, External and Student Affairs Carolina Gonzalez (-academic success); Assistant Director of Financial Aid Rosemary Guichardo (financial aid); Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Gant (essay writing), Admissions Counselor for Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Cherese Jackson (application process); and Associate Dean of University College Daphne Galkin (overview of colleges/schools/programs). Assistant Director for EOF Carmen Reyes-Cuevas and Associate Director of Financial Aid Lucy Candal-Fernandez presented in the evening to parents in both languages.

The HSCI is a living embodiment of the University’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a realization of its commitment to ensuring that Hispanic students succeed in college and in life. More than one-third of the University’s students identify as Hispanic and many are first-generation college students.

Pivoting online this year was a learning opportunity for the HSCI organizing team, Professor of Teaching and Learning David Schwarzer, President of Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) Gicelle Sanchez, and Academic Program Coordinator for University College Natalie Lopez.

“We learn from the students what they need, what they like, how we can support them, how much information is actually out there, how much we need to work with the counselors in the high schools,” said Paz Goldfarb in her interview with Joe Torres on ABC7NY’s Tiempo.

“This is a pilot. We have never done it this way. It was extremely successful and I’m really happy about it.”

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann

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