Focus on Community/Arts
Chesapeake College Taps Latino Community

Thursday, May 17, 2007

WYE MILLS – Chesapeake College, in an effort to bring greater diversity to campus, is working to recruit new students from the region´s growing Hispanic population.

"This is a growing segment of our population on the Shore," said Dean for Recruitment Services Kathy Petrichenko. "Obviously, there is much diversity within the Latino community, so we´re trying to connect with specific segments of that population. We´re reaching out, for example, to first-generation college students through the area high schools."

In addition to information sessions at the high schools, admissions representatives conduct follow-up meetings aimed at encouraging culturally diverse students to enroll at Chesapeake.

The college is also conducting outreach through the Office of Admissions with help from area community groups. Several liaisons to the local Hispanic community serve on Chesapeake´s Multicultural Advisory Committee. The group, comprised of college employees and members of the service community, assists Chesapeake with increasing diversity on campus.

Last summer, the Office of Multicultural Affairs held a Hispanic Youth Conference for prospective students at the Wye Mills Campus. The Office of Admissions is working with the Caroline County Department of Social Services to reach prospective adult students. Outreach events this year included presentations at the Head Start facilities in Greensboro and Federalsburg.

In recruiting the Hispanic students, college officials confirmed that these students face many of the same challenges that confront non-Hispanic students in the area. Finances and transportation, for example, can be significant challenges to enrolling in college. For some who are new to the United States, the community college concept itself is unusual.

"Some of the students we´ve encountered are not familiar with U.S. community colleges. Higher education to them means a large, highly-selective university with full-time students who are in their late teens and early 20s," said Director of Multicultural Affairs Dana Bowser. "We have open admissions here, you can take one class at a time and you are welcome here at any age. Many Chesapeake students work full-time and have families. We want the Latino community to know that we´re an option."

For students who are not native English speakers and feel they need to sharpen their skills, Chesapeake College offers English as a Second Language classes designed for college students. The classes will prepare students for the general education English classes that are required at the freshman and sophomore levels.

Even students who are already comfortable with college-level English may feel overwhelmed in large, lecture classes. Some of Chesapeake´s Hispanic students say they appreciate the small class size and support services available at a community college.

"I went to high school in Kent County and everyone tells me that my English is fine. But the fact is that it is not my first language," said Leonardo Tanaka, a Chestertown resident who is originally from Peru. "One of the reasons I decided to come to Chesapeake is because of language issues. I feel more comfortable in smaller classes right now and it´s much easier to interact with the instructors when you don´t have a class with 300 students. I´m also making use of the Writing Center here. Any time I´m writing a paper and have a question, I find the right answer through the Writing Center."

Tanaka, plans to transfer to a four-year institution to earn a bachelor´s degree and eventually attend medical school.

Another Hispanic student, Janine Negrete of Easton said Chesapeake is the perfect fit for adult students. Negrete´s family hails from Ecuador. A bank teller in Easton, Negrete is also a wife and the mother of two young children. She enrolled at Chesapeake as a pre-nursing major and hopes to become a pediatric nurse someday.

"I love it here at Chesapeake. The atmosphere is very friendly and the professors are approachable," said Negrete, who attended community college in New York City before moving to Easton with her husband. "I like that the college is small and that there is a lot of personal contact. There are good advisors here to guide you through the registration process. That takes a lot of the confusion away and helps keep you on track."

She added that the flexible schedule options and on-site childcare center would appeal to busy parents who want to enroll in classes.

While Chesapeake is working to break down barriers for prospective Latino students, some obstacles are beyond the college´s control, according to Diana Aristizabal. A native of Colombia, Aristizabal works closely with the area Hispanic population as outreach services coordinator with the Mid-Shore Council on Youth and Families. She also serves on Chesapeake´s Multicultural Advisory Committee.

Aristizabal praised the college´s efforts to reach out to Latino youth and said that there is rising interest in attending college among those prospective students.

"The financial challenge of paying for classes is the biggest problem for some of these students. This especially tough for young people who have additional challenges like residency issues. They have the will and the ability, but they don´t have the money. Legislative efforts to extend the in-county tuition rate to undocumented residents would have been a huge help, but that measure failed," said Aristizabal. "It´s a shame because there is a lot of potential in these students that will go to waste. The public schools are preparing these students for higher education and community colleges like Chesapeake are ready to help them take the next steps. But then the tuition and fees stand in the way. Education will mean that these students will be productive members of our region and will contribute so much."

The Office of Multicultural Affairs, in conjunction with the Multicultural Advisory Committee, raises funds to help economically disadvantaged students pay for books. Despite the obstacles, Chesapeake is committed to expanding its services to the Latino community.

Chesapeake will hold an Admissions Day on Thursday, May 24 from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Eastern Shore Higher Education Center. High school seniors and their parents may attend. The event will feature admissions instruction, academic skills assessment testing, academic advising, and college registration for the fall 2007 semester. Students planning to register at this event do not have to pay at the time of registration. For more information, please call 410-822-5400, ext. 257.

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