Welcoming prospective students in two languages

Alberto Maldonado will welcome prospective students and families at the Jan. 16 bilingual Casa Abierta/Open House at UWM. (UWM Photo/Derek Rickert)

“Bienvenidos a la universidad.”

Those are the words Spanish-speaking students and their families will be hearing on Saturday, Jan. 16 at the second annual Casa Abierta/Open House and Bilingual Day at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The event is held from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the UWM Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

“We know a student doesn’t make the decision to attend college on their own,” said Alberto Maldonado, assistant director for undergraduate and transfer recruitment and community relations at UWM. “Family plays a large role in supporting and nurturing students as they make these life-changing decisions. Not all family members are comfortable with English as a first language and we want to make sure everyone gets the information they need, in the way they need it, to help students become future Panthers.”

During Casa Abierta, students will have the opportunity to:

  • Participate in a resource fair.
  • Enjoy a campus tour.
  • Take part in breakout sessions about high school preparation, admission to UWM and financial aid.
  • Attend a student panel to ask questions and get the answers from the student perspective.

The university is working hard to reach college-aged Latino/a students as that population grows rapidly in Wisconsin. Latinos are now the largest minority group in Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The state’s population of Latinos under the age of 19 is increasing, and now represents about 40 percent of the state’s entire Latino population.

“The Latino population is growing rapidly, and many find it easier to learn about colleges and universities in their own language,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado and a few advisers in UWM’s admissions office speak Spanish and regularly visit predominately Latino-serving high schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. They also staffed a UWM booth at Mexican Fiesta in August. Last fall, the university hosted a National Hispanic College Fair that brought together recruiters from universities, colleges and vocational/technical schools.

Once they are enrolled at UWM, Latino students have access to opportunities, resources and a strong campus community to help them thrive. The university’s Roberto Hernandez Center 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 – about topics such as financial aid – along with research of interest to the Latino community.

Last year’s Bilingual Day event was a great success, said Marilyn Vazquez, an admissions adviser. In addition to learning about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid—a document necessary to apply for scholarships and loans), financial aid, scholarships, career opportunities and other information in Spanish, students also heard from alumni and Latino/a students enrolled at UWM.

“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.”

Holding the Casa Abierta event on a weekend allows parents who work second- or third-shift jobs to attend.

And while most Latino/a college-age students are first-generation and bilingual, their parents may not speak much English, Vazquez added. 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.

Registration is now open.

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