Great things happen when no one is looking.
Or at least, where the light of most media doesn't shine. In Los Angeles, these past few days, a group of current college students, recent college grads, and teacher credential students visited many local high schools to talk about college.
These were not just any students. Most were first generation Latino college goers and graduates. A unique breed in short supply.
Having graduated from many of the same high schools they were now visiting, these students were not merely providing valuable information on what is needed to make it to college but, more importantly, they were offering empowerment. A sense of, "If I did it, so can you, and here's how."
Besides their strong need to give back to their communities, these college students have something else in common - their professor, Rebecca Joseph, PhD, a full time Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA) and the founder of Getmetocollege.org, a partner of my organization, Latinos in College.
"When we asked high schoolers how many of them knew people who had gone to college, only about 5% raised their hands," shares Dr. Joseph with a mix of awe and frustration. Hence the need for more college students (and professionals) to visit schools and routinely share their personal stories of success.
Dr. Joseph's team has been implementing Latinos in College workshops (supported by our sponsor Bedoyecta) in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) with the help of teachers who host one or two of our Ambassadors in their class for a whole day. But these aren't your grandmother's workshops.
Because the facilitators and the audience are close in age and share very similar life experiences, there's an unusual openness and willingness to discuss difficult topics such as strategies to afford college when your family depends on your income or how to deal with depression when you are the only undocumented sibling in your family.
It hasn't only been traditional students facilitating the program either. Arlene Acosta is a forty-something-year-old mom of 8 (three of whom are already in college,) first generation college goer who is now a Junior at CSULA. And also an entire family, mom and four kids, became a role model for parents and students alike. They wanted to encourage others to make higher education a priority. "The mother only has a third or fourth grade education," explains Dr. Joseph. "Three of her kids are in college and the fourth one, the oldest son, has been very depressed because he's undocumented and he can't receive any financial aid. They came out to speak at a parent workshop to show that even when you live in the projects and are very poor, you can still go to college."
Granted, there are a lot more things we can do as a society to continue providing pathways to higher education for all students, starting by passing the Dream Act once and for all. Next, we need to increase rather than cut college counseling in schools as our economy desperately needs a college educated workforce. But the empowerment that comes from close-aged peers and families who've done what many Hispanic students once deemed impossible - priceless.
Mariela Dabbah’s new book Poder de Mujer was just released by Penguin. She’s a leadership consultant for corporations and organizations, an award winning author and renown public speaker. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization that helps students and families find everything they need to succeed in college.
Mariela Dabbah’s latest book Poder de Mujer will be out in English April 2013 by Penguin. She’s the founder and CEO of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.