Advancing with support

by Leigh Keeton

Krystal Soto is looking forward to a fulfilling career thanks in part to a positive and encouraging experience at Ohio’s Lorain County Community College (LCCC) that began with its Avanzando Through College program.

Soto, originally from Puerto Rico, graduated from LCCC in May 2022 with her Associate of Applied Business degree in culinary arts and, through an externship experience within the program, has been working at Gonzalez Market, making pastries. Soto said much of her success during and after college can be attributed to her experience in the Avanzando Through College program.

Avanzando means ‘to advance’ in Spanish and the year-long program is best described as a learning community for Latinx and Hispanic first-year, second-year and transfer students. They participate in special events, peer mentoring activities and academic support programs.

The program has three goals: to help new students find student support services, improve academic performance and graduate. Soto said the program fulfilled all three goals for her, with Cynthia Arredondo’s help and guidance.

“Avanzando was a really good experience,” Soto said. “We did a lot of fun activities, and they have very good mentors who will go out of their way to help you.”

Helping Hispanic and Latinx students complete their degrees is the cornerstone of the Avanzando program, and it’s working. Through targeted programming and partnerships with local organizations like El Centro, degree attainment for Hispanic students at LCCC has more than tripled over the past 10 years.

To ensure Soto completed the degree program within three years, Arredondo connected her with the college’s Students Accelerating in Learning (SAIL) program. SAIL provides both financial and academic support to help students reach graduation within that timeframe.

“My SAIL counselor was a great guide, always directing me to the right places and programs. And she always motivated me to keep going and not give up,” Soto said.

Beyond the support services, Soto said the peer mentoring helped her connect with other students on campus and improve her English-speaking skills.

“I faced various barriers, one of them being English because it’s not my first language,” Soto said. “But that helped me work harder and made me realize I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it.” Soto added that more schooling is likely in her future and she’s confident in her ability to continue on.

“Earning my degree made me realize that I want to continue my educational life, and that if I did it once I can do it twice,” Soto said.

And Soto’s mentor has confidence in her, too.

“She’s grown so much since I first met her,” Arredondo said. “Especially in the area of self-expression and self-advocacy, which is one of the greatest benefits of attending college.”

This article was originally published here.