Increasingly, universities speak to new students in Spanish

 A group of students from Mexico toured the UWM campus this summer, with Alberto Maldonado from admissions and other Spanish-speaking advisers. The students were part of a dance troupe performing at Fiesta Mexicana. (UWMphotos/Kenny Yoo)
A group of students from Mexico toured the UWM campus this summer, with Alberto Maldonado from admissions and other Spanish-speaking advisers. The students were part of a dance troupe performing at Fiesta Mexicana. (UWM Photos/Kenny Yoo)

Bienvenidos a la universidad.

These words are spoken by many more recruiters and advisers these days as universities, including UWM, connect with Latino/a students and their families in Spanish.

“The Latino population is growing rapidly, and many find it easier to learn about colleges and universities in their own language,” said Alberto Maldonado, assistant director for undergraduate and transfer recruitment and community relations.

Local Latino/a high school students will be able to learn about colleges and universities from all over the country at a National Hispanic College Fair from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28, in UWM’s Student Union. Of the more than 50 fairs sponsored by the Career Council, Inc., this is the only one in Wisconsin.

The event will bring together recruiters from universities, colleges and vocational/technical schools to talk with families and potential students. Milwaukee area and Waukesha County schools will send 25 busloads of Latino/a and other under-represented students to the fair, local organizers said.

Latinos are now the largest minority group in Wisconsin, and 40 percent of those residents are under age 19, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With the growth in this college-age population, UWM is making an effort to reach out in Spanish.

Several UWM admissions advisers speak Spanish and regularly visit predominately Latino/a high schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. They also staffed a UWM booth at Mexican Fiesta in August.

Students who attend UWM receive support from the Roberto Hernandez Center, which provides academic and socio-cultural advising, coordinates the Latino Studies Certificate Program and teaches Introduction to Latino Studies. The bilingual staff provides other relevant information – such as financial aid – along with research of interest to the Latino community.

The center has an annual scholarship fundraiser, Promoting Academics in Latino Milwaukee, which provides a limited number of emergency scholarships to UWM-enrolled Latino/a students, and organizes and sponsors campus celebrations Cinco de Mayo and Hispanic Heritage month (Sept. 15-Oct. 14).

On Saturday, Jan. 16, UWM will hold its second annual Bilingual Open House/Casa Abierta for students and families to meet with advisers.

Last year’s event was a great success, said Marilyn Vazquez, an admissions adviser. In addition to learning about FAFSAs, financial aid, scholarships, career opportunities and other information in Spanish, students also heard from alumni and Latino/a students enrolled at UWM. Having the event on a weekend allows parents who work second- or third-shift jobs to attend.

“Many Latino/a students are first-generation students,” Maldonado said. “Maybe no one in their family ever went to college. The whole process can be very daunting to them.”

And while most Latino/a college-age students are first-generation and bilingual, their parents may not speak much English, Vazquez said. Many Latino families are close-knit, and appreciate the opportunity to be involved in a student’s decision about selecting a college or university. “It’s helpful to be able to meet the families and talk to them in their language,” she said.

Families may have questions about issues in the Latino community. For example, Maldonado said that because of the cultural emphasis on family, many prefer their children to live at home while attending the university, raising concerns about UWM’s requirement that first-year students live on campus.

Students and families may also have questions related to residency in the U.S. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program allows certain young people who came to the U.S. as children to work and attend school even though they are considered undocumented.

“There are a great number of undocumented students who want to come to college,” said Maldonado. “They’re eager. They’re high achieving and smart, and the people in their community have high hopes for them. We help them understand it’s possible for them to come to UWM.”


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