When Lucia Rios’ mother attended college in Mexico, things were decidedly different from the American educational system. She wants to help her daughter through her Harper College journey – the financial aid, scholarships and support services, for example – but it’s tough when your Spanish is so much better than your English.
PASO, Rios said, has helped.
PASO, which stands for Project Achievement – Surpassing Obstacles, or Proyecto de Apoyo Superando Obstaculos, helps families of Latinx students navigate the college, said Alejandro Mendoza, Harper’s admissions outreach operations manager and PASO team leader. The program holds events for families to highlight everything from financial aid to stress-related health and wellness tips.
It was born out of an initiative to recruit Latinx students, keep them engaged and persist in college, while providing families the resources necessary to help support them.
Rios and her family attended PASO’s kickoff event just before the global pandemic.
“Mom liked learning more about FAFSA,” Rios said, and “the way you study, that’s what affects your results in that class. There are a lot of families who are in need of help, and this gives them the opportunity to ask questions in a comfortable setting.”
The event also had food, music, a parent panel providing tips on how to best support students and a Q&A with faculty and advisors. Families could attend financial aid and scholarship workshops, where Harper staff helped them complete FAFSA forms. Early feedback for PASO has been overwhelmingly positive, Mendoza said.
PASO is just one way Harper College is focused on supporting the Latinx population. Latinos Unidos is an organization that provides networking and volunteer opportunities for Latinx students, while FAUNDS (Foundation for Allies of Undocumented Non-Citizen and DACA Students) aims to advance the rights of undocumented, non-citizen and DACA students. The college has also tried a variety of education pilots, such as letting students who’ve tested into non-credit, developmental English but speak another language at home take a multilingual composition course, which would give them English 101 credit.
An alum of Harper, Mendoza said he understands the challenges that many first-generation college students face.
“When I went here, I was the first in my family to go to college,” he said. “I had trouble navigating the system. I couldn’t really rely on my parents. My mother didn’t go to college or grow up here, but she was very much my motivation for going into education.”
A program like PASO?
“It would have helped tremendously,” he said. “Families want to help but don’t have information or know how to support their students. A program like this will help them understand the journey their kids are on and how to support them.”