Eva Cordero first visited and fell in love with Montclair State University when she was a tween. She was on campus for a pool party at the Student Recreation Center and remembers thinking that college was “cool.” She visited campus again, this time for a performance at the Alexander Kasser Theater, with her seventh-grade choir group. It was then she decided Montclair was the place for her.
In mid-July, the 16-year-old Wood-Ridge High School rising senior was back at the University for the Hispanic Student College Institute (HSCI), a three-day immersive program for high school rising juniors and seniors of Hispanic/Latinx descent designed to help them navigate the college admissions process and set them up for academic success. Cordero, who learned about the Institute after visiting the University’s website, was one of 79 students. Despite her love of Montclair and attending the University’s Open House with her parents, at first she was uneasy about being away from the comfort and familiarity of home for the first time.
“I was a little nervous. I didn’t know if I would like it. Was I going to make friends?” she says. “I gave it a chance. Now, I wish it were longer.”
Now in its sixth year, HSCI provides students with a preview of the college experience, while helping them learn about everything from financial aid and the college essay and application process to learning about majors and internship opportunities. They also get to network with academic and professional mentors. HSCI, which is free to students, is supported by State Farm Insurance.
Throughout the program, students also work closely with peer mentors, mostly Montclair students who emphasize the ongoing support that helped them achieve their personal, educational and professional goals. Montclair has ranked among the Top 100 Colleges for Hispanics for the past 19 years by Hispanic Outlook on Education magazine.
Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb says HSCI uses access and equity as a guiding framework.
“We provide access to information, human and financial resources, and mentors because we know what is crucial for a successful college application process and a smooth transition from high school to college,” she says. “Additionally, this program intentionally serves our future Hispanic students and reflects the work Montclair State University is doing as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and the commitment of our institution to serve our communities.”
Not only did Cordero make new friends, she says she found the sessions chock full of information. She plans to major in Family Science and Human Development and minor in Business to reach her goal of becoming a social worker and school guidance counselor for children with special needs.
She says the Business minor will come in handy because ultimately, she wants to open her own day care center for special needs children. “I want people to work for me,” she says. “I am trying to think ahead and set myself up for success. I want to do it for me and to make my parents proud because without them I would not be where I am.”
The importance of family, culture and giving back to one’s community were common themes among this summer’s HSCI participants.
Shantal Proano, a Montclair peer mentor and senior Medical Humanities major, grew emotional when she shared with HSCI participants that when she’s feeling burned out, “I think about my [immigrant] parents and their struggle because they didn’t come here for nothing.” Her comment drew applause from HSCI participants, many of whom relate and will be first-generation college students.
Keynote speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez ’07, shared some thoughts about his father, a Cuban immigrant, with the students, noting: “My dad is about greatness. He worked two jobs, came home and never complained.”
The motivational speaker and founder of Hope + Future Youth Center in West New York, New Jersey, urged students to be “All In” when it comes to being of service to others rather than chasing fame or fortune. “Fame is what you do for yourself but greatness is what you do for others,” said Gonzalez, who gave up a career in the NBA to become a ninth-grade world history teacher in Union City. “Fame is about self-preservation; how good can you look. Greatness is about self-sacrifice; how good can you make someone else look?”
Goldfarb says: “The family component is extremely important. Many of our participants are going to be the first in their families to go to college. Families also need access to information and resources so they can best support their children.” She notes that peer mentors will continue supporting families and participants through the year.
Building community with people who understand your experience also is important. Stephanie De Dios, a peer mentor, told students that seeing Hispanics among Montclair’s students, staff and faculty weighed into her decision on where to enroll. “For those who don’t know, Montclair is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and seeing other Hispanics on campus is something I looked for and was a deciding factor for me in attending MSU,” she told the students. “I like the diversity. It feels welcoming, and you feel less out of place.”
This year, HSCI had one international student. Moira Mejia, a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, is in New Jersey visiting a friend of her mother’s. Mejia learned about the program from her mother’s friend, whose daughters attended HSCI. She decided to attend after reading up on it. Mejia, who is interested in studying acting or fashion, says she doesn’t know if she will come to college in the U.S. but would consider Montclair.
“From what I’ve heard, it’s really good here, and they help you a lot, which is good,” she says, adding, “It’s great. I love it. I never thought I would be here.”
Gabriel Galloza, 16, a rising junior from Morristown High School, attended not just for himself but for students in his Immigrant Resource Group. Galloza, who was born in the United States to immigrant parents, likes to assist immigrant students and English Language Learners navigate student life. More than half of his high school’s student population is minority, mostly Hispanic, and about 20% are ELL students.
While Galloza hopes to pursue his dream of going to Harvard, which he visited this summer, he wanted to learn all he could at HSCI. “My main goal is to learn specifically what the college process looks like for undocumented students in New Jersey to give them hope,” he says. “So many of these students have told me they want to be a doctor or they want to study astronomy, they want to study business, study so many things but they have no idea how they’re going to get it done. So that’s what I want to get from this program.”
Cordero is already sold. “I’m so set on coming here. In my head, I’m already committed,” she says, adding that she applied for and was accepted to the University’s Early Bird Junior Admit Program. “I have a spot but I still need to reapply in September. I’m really excited about that.”
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