How to Better Serve a Growing Latino Student Population

By Rebecca L. Weber

A new two-year grant will help faculty integrate Latino culture into courses at Reading Area Community College.

The National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded a $100,000 grant to Pennsylvania’s Reading Area Community College (RACC) to help the college better engage Latino students.

With the grant, RACC will create Conexiones, a new two-year program that will train faculty to integrate Latino history and culture into general education courses, such as literature, Spanish and writing.

About 30 percent of RACC’s students are Latino, making it the first college in Pennsylvania to be designated a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI). (To receive the federal HSI designation, at least 25 percent of full-time students must be Latino.) Most of the Latino students at RACC are of Puerto Rican, Mexican or Dominican heritage.

How Conexiones will work

The program begins this July, when four visiting scholars will work with 15 faculty members through a course set up in the Canvas learning management system. On seminar days, the scholars will give morning lectures and afternoon workshops on campus. Participants will go to New York City to work with research facilities for a day; a follow-up reflection in the first year will help participants review what they’ve learned and understand how they can adapt it to a lesson plan.

In the second year, through a Lunch and Learn series, local Latino leaders will come to campus to speak about topics specific to the disciplines. Representatives from the American Social History Project at City University of New York (CUNY) will work with faculty online to refine lesson plans and curriculum development.

“We want to try and shape ourselves as an institution that leads the way in best practices on serving Latino students,” says Jodi Corbett, RACC’s director of academic partnerships. “This particular NEH grant and this initiative help us reach into the classroom with a unique kind of professional development for faculty to infuse into the curricula. The scholars who are coming to Reading Area Community College are prominent scholars, Latino scholars that really truly drove Latino studies.”

Lasting outcomes

Conexiones will reach further than the faculty involved in the initial professional development activities. “Faculty members will be creating a module that will be housed in the Canvas common areas so that other faculty can pull in those lessons. It will become a teaching resource,” Corbett says.

Through a previous collaboration with the Bridging Historias program at CUNY, RACC already has several courses in the pilot stage for Latino students. For example, a Heritage Speaker course addresses the needs of students whose language at home is Spanish, but who see themselves primarily as English speakers.

Corbett hopes Conexiones will help create a Latino studies program and improve Latino student retention and completion.

“We’re doing a lot of intrusive advising with students so that we can help students become stronger. That’s not just with our Latino populations; that’s with our population at large,” Corbett says. “We’re trying to understand who they are so that we can better serve them, and maybe even anticipate the questions that they have before they disappear —  before they lose track of where they are in college.”

Getting the grant

This was Corbett’s first time writing a grant of this size, and she is quick to credit the mentorship she received from the American Social History Project.

What advice does she have for campus leaders? “One, reach out, and take the help. Two, where you have established partnerships, find ways that you can make those partnerships stronger.

“If you want to do something for students,” Corbett continues, “go in with an open heart. If you’re able to articulate what you think your students need, people will help you.”

Rebecca L. Weber

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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