Dr. Thomas J. Haas is president of Grand Valley State University.
In August, about 80 Latino students and their families will be welcomed at Grand Valley State University for the third annual Laker Familia, an orientation specific to Latino/a students.
We include the parents and siblings of our new students during a portion of this orientation because we want the entire family to feel comfortable with their student’s decision to become a Laker.
Laker Familia is a solid example of Grand Valley’s commitment to ensuring the success of students of color. This initiative was created to help address challenges, such as finances, cultural differences and academic readiness, that might keep students from graduating.
Graduation rates for students of color have improved nationally, and we must continue that momentum. Grand Valley is a leader in this area because of our intentional focus on student success.
I’m pleased to be the first university president in Michigan to join Excelencia in Education’s Presidents for Latino Student Success (Excelencia). With other presidents, I will advocate for increased higher education access for Latino/a students and support them with resources and services. Joining Excelencia fits within Grand Valley’s strategic plan of providing students with the tools they need to succeed.
Here is an example: Laker Familia will expand this year beyond three days in August to a yearlong support program for Latino/a students. Data show that these types of initiatives work both as recruitment and retention tools.
Grand Valley’s enrollment of Latino/a students increased in 2015 by 6.5 percent over the previous year—from 1,090 in 2014 to 1,161 last fall. I’m also pleased that we have one of the highest graduation rates for Latino/a students among Michigan’s 15 public universities.
These numbers support the programs, but it’s the students who are doing the work and achieving success.
Christopher Lopez, a junior from Saginaw, served as a mentor for Laker Familia after going through the program as a first-year student. He almost dropped out during his first semester but said the connections he made during Laker Familia helped him establish a campus support system and a network of friends.
Lopez is working as an intern this summer at Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis. He was one of two Grand Valley students who earned scholarships last year that honor Lupe Ramos-Montigny, a member of the Michigan State Board of Education and a longtime West Michigan educator and activist.
Our work for and with Latino/a students goes beyond Grand Valley’s campus. To name a few examples, we have partnered with Grand Rapids Community College on several pipeline programs for middle and high school students and joined with the Hispanic Center of West Michigan to bring 60 Latino youth to campus for a college readiness program, Supporting Our Leaders (SOL).
These community partnerships play a vital role in furthering Grand Valley’s goal of creating an inclusive and welcoming campus, and work in concert with our mission to advance inclusion and equity for all students.
We recognize the changing demographics of the nation, particularly the growing Latino population and what an important role they will play in the future of our region and state. We will continue our forward momentum to capture the talents of students of color and engage them while they are part of our campus community before they become leaders in their own communities.