“Tú tienes una casa aquí,” meaning, “You have a home here,” is one of La Visión’s Spanish slogans.
It’s a slogan La Visión is taking to heart.
The program, under the guidance of the Kansas University Provost’s Office, is entering its second year in attempting to prepare, attract and retain Hispanic students to the university.
As of fall 2008, about 3.5 percent of KU students were Hispanic, up from 2.4 percent a decade ago. But that falls well short of the statewide percentages — nearly 9 percent of Kansans were Hispanic in 2007, according to Census estimates.
La Visión was the result of a 2008 meeting of the KU Latino Vision Council, which was discussing how Latino youths could be encouraged to attend college.
Danny Anderson, now KU’s interim provost, was there and later helped develop a plan to face the challenge.
“There is a growing number of Latino students in our state,” Anderson said. “For most of them, their parents did not attend college, and I care deeply about helping students become the first generation in their family to attend college.”
One of the biggest advances for La Visión came in May, when Toni Casados started her job as an ambassador in western Kansas. Stationed in Garden City, Casados said she is striving to inform students in kindergarten through community college about the importance of furthering their education.
“I want everyone to know that they can go to school,” Casados said. “I’m making connections right now and hope that I become a familiar face to the students.”
Having a familiar face that one can trust is important when informing parents and children about school. It can be hard for a parent to let a child venture out on their own, so La Visión seeks to build a comfortable relationship with families and students.
“As a Spanish speaker myself, I have had the opportunity to visit Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal, and meet with groups of students at community colleges as well as with families,” Anderson said. “The students all speak English. But for some of the parents, it is important for them to get to know us, to know that many of us speak English and Spanish, and that we can answer questions they may have.”
Mark Marquez, a senior from Kansas City, Kan., is majoring in human biology at KU. When he started college, he knew that the Hispanic population at KU was low, so he joined the Hispanic American Leadership Organization. Now the vice president of HALO, he strongly believes in the importance of outreach.
“I understand that college isn’t for everyone, but if they show potential, they should explore their options,” Marquez said. “I know money can be an issue, but they should know that they’re going to get money back.”
Other projects included under the La Visión umbrella include:
l Harvest of Hope, a three-week summer enrichment program available to high school students who are immigrants.
l A project to translate admissions and scholarship materials, as well as portions of KU’s Web site, into Spanish.
l Mi Familia, a program based in southwest Kansas that addresses social adjustment and preparation for college among Latino students and their families.
Anderson said these are among the steps that are making KU a more inviting place for Hispanic students.
“In the knowledge society in which we live,” Anderson said, “post-secondary education is crucial for individual success, and it is also the key for our collective welfare as a society.”