More than 100 New Jersey high school students and their parents descended on Montclair State University on July 8, 2023, to learn about college admissions, enrollment and financial aid as well as the University’s academic offerings at the annual Hispanic Student College Institute (HSCI).
Samantha Tepox, a rising junior from Passaic County, New Jersey, was one of the attendees and “learned a lot about college.”
The four-day institute, which receives support from State Farm Insurance, helped students and parents prepare for college. “I learned about financial aid and scholarships,” Tepox said. “The mentors have been really helpful. I was really nervous. This one mentor told us how to introduce ourselves and talk to people, and that was really helpful. It gave me more confidence. I met this academic advisor, and I think she’s going to be a really helpful resource.”
Brando Castillo, a rising senior from West New York, New Jersey, said he learned about HSCI from his English teacher. He was accompanied the first day by his parents, Sandra Miguelina Paulino de Castillo and Rafael Castillo Almonte, and his two younger sisters, ages 14 and 17.
Being accepted into the summer program was an ego boost, Castillo said. He especially liked learning from the Montclair student mentors, assigned to small groups of participants. “They shared how they navigated college life. They’re also young, they’ve just finished it, so I have more in common and can have one-on-one conversations with them. I really love the advice that they’ve been giving me.”
Castillo also appreciated the community component of HSCI. “We’re all Latinos, obviously, but we’re all from different walks of life, and I find that so cool,” he said. “The entire group is full of intelligent, young, bright-minded people. Getting to connect with people is really what I love.”
Connecting with and engaging families on a Sunday to make it easier for them to attend was a new component of this year’s HSCI, according to Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb. Parents were able to attend a luncheon and workshops when they dropped off their children for their campus stay. Goldfarb says the HSCI staff welcomed 150 family members, who were able to learn about everything from financial aid to admissions and enrollment; information was presented in both English and Spanish. They also heard from a panel of alumni and professionals who talked about helping their children transition to college.
President Jonathan Koppell and Montclair Trustee Mary A. Comito addressed student participants during an evening networking event.
Koppell shared Montclair’s commitment to diversity, noting that it is an Hispanic-Serving Institution, as well as rigorous and a research university.
“It’s not enough to create access if you don’t put on the exact same level of excellence. So, you’re right to view Montclair as a place where you can find a home,” Koppell told them. “But we don’t want people to think that being welcoming means we don’t have the highest standards.”
Comito encouraged students to “use this as an opportunity to imagine vividly what your life could be because with an education at Montclair State, truly the world is at your feet, and the opportunities are boundless.”
As a trustee, Comito called herself a “raving fan of the University.” She told the students: “I want to turn you into raving fans of Montclair State, so go back and tell all the folks in your schools what a great institution we have.”
Goldfarb told students: “We want you to start here. We want you to finish here. We want you to excel here. We also want you working and being part of the workforce in a way that you are supported and you feel that you belong.”
To that end, a fourth day for workforce and career exploration was added to the HSCI program this year, says Goldfarb. Participants attended workshops to learn about careers in the financial, tech, health-care and television and media industries. After presentations, representatives from Deloitte, Telemundo, CompTIA and the Center of Excellence for Latino Health at RWJBarnabas Health’s Clara Maass Medical Center answered questions about the multiple opportunities in their respective industries.
Students’ questions for Telemundo anchors and reporters ranged from which celebrities they’d met to how to gain confidence in asking for sponsors for a nonprofit fundraiser. When one student mentioned being from a New Jersey town known as being rough, Telemundo employees urged students to be proud of where they’re from because it helped shape them but that it was up to them to define their futures. “It’s your city. It’s your ZIP code. Where we are from or where we live doesn’t define who we are. The world is your oyster,” said Telemundo 47 President and General Manager Cristina Schwartz.
During the health workshop, students asked thoracic surgeon Joana Sesti what she liked best about being a surgeon, as well as what soft skills she used in doing her job. Dr. Sesti kept it real, telling students about the hard work and sacrifices she’d made in order to achieve her goals of becoming a surgeon. She also encouraged them to stay true to their dreams and goals and urged them to practice self-care by speaking to themselves as they would a friend and to “be humble, do your job with excellence.”
Both Tepox and Castillo encouraged other Hispanic high school students to take advantage of HSCI. “If you have the opportunity to come to these programs, take it. Every part of the whole experience is worth it.”
Castillo said: “Grab these opportunities. You have to go towards them.”
Being on campus for a few days, he came to appreciate the architecture and people he met along the way. “It’s just a really lovely environment, he said, adding that when it comes to applying for colleges, “Montclair is now on the top, top of my list.”
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