For its fast-growing and vibrant program supporting Latino students and community members, Southern Utah University and its Hispanic Center for Academic Excellence were recognized when Dean James McDonald received the Latinos in Action Administrator of the Year Award for his efforts to advance opportunities and support for Hispanic students on the college track.
With higher college enrollment rates than their white counterparts, according to the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project, and a drastic decline in high school dropout rates among Hispanics, programming to support a larger base of Hispanic students — and to continue the upward trend among high school students — is in high demand, particularly because Hispanics continue to lag whites in a number of key higher education measures.
Though college enrollment in general is up, young Hispanic college students are still less likely to enroll in a four-year college than their white counterparts (56% versus 72%), they are less likely to enroll in college full time, and are less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Latinos are the largest minority group on SUU’s campus. McDonald, dean of SUU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, was recognized in the annual Latinos in Action (LiA) Leadership Conference for his leadership in addressing hurdles to collegiate success for the region's Latino students.
“Administration, in my view, is about initiating and stewarding change that leads to a more robust and impactful institution,” said McDonald, whose efforts in a relatively short timeframe have already produced a considerable amount of new infrastructure in terms of both visibility and impact among the region's Latino community.
With the help of dedicated administrators like McDonald and an ImPact grant from the State of Utah, the Hispanic Center has grown to include a full-time director and has secured resources to bolster recruitment activities throughout the state and parts of Nevada.
“Over the last three years, we have maintained the Center's core mission: outreach to area schools, a tutoring program in those schools and the weekly Encuentros language exchange program,” McDonald said.
Among the expanded recruitment tools are a more robust multicultural overnight program, a summer camp for Latino high school students, numerous cultural workshops and Latino-led tours of campus.
The Center has also expanded its Latino student services internship program, helping students receive job-related training and experience while also earning much-needed cash.
Students have been active in development efforts as well, forming the SUU Latino Club and a LiA chapter on campus. The latter received an award from the University’s student association, SUUSA, for the best new student club.
Efforts to serve Latino community members are also a high priority for the Hispanic Center, which is working toward implementation of a Spanish-language GED program in connection with the Southwest Applied Technology College.
Additionally, the Center is preparing to launch an Empresarios Latinos (Latino Small Business Entrepreneurs) program in conjunction with SUU’s School of Business to provide support for the Latino entrepreneurial community.
“The weight and ambition of our activities is what attracted LiA's attention,” said McDonald. “I think the founder, Jose Enriquez, understands how active and energetic we've been on behalf of both students and community and appreciates how quickly we have grown our infrastructure to make a substantial impact.”
SUU also now offers an LiA course on campus, the first in Utah at the university level.
Headquartered in Provo, Utah, Latinos in Action is an organization that focuses on empowering Latino youth through culture, service, leadership and literacy with the ultimate goal of completing a college degree. LiA chapters can be found in high schools and middle schools across Utah, helping students prepare for college and training them as paraprofessionals to tutor local elementary school students.
More than 500 LiA students attended the March leadership conference, which was this year hosted on SUU's campus.
Encouraged by the success of the conference and the progress made thus far, McDonald’s focus is clear: to make SUU the destination campus for Latinos in Utah and the greater region.
“We have an outstanding group of Latino students here at SUU, coupled with a remarkable director of the Hispanic Center for Academic Excellence, Jonathan Puente,” said McDonald. “It’s a fantastic time to be here.”