UVU touts growth, enhancement of programming aimed at Latinos
Leaders at Utah Valley University are proud to say the school’s educational offerings to Latino students are ever evolving and expanding — and increasingly, they’re also attracting attention and earning national recognition.
One example is UVU’s Latino Initiative, which has a mission to meet the needs of Utah’s growing college-aged Latino population.
During the summer months, the university hosts high school students for three tuition-free 10-week programs: Latino Scientists of Tomorrow, Engineers & Technologists of Tomorrow and Business Leaders of Tomorrow. Each “Tomorrow” program offers classes and activities designed to increase the number of underrepresented students in Utah who graduate with degrees in fields focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
The success of UVU’s programs led to them being piloted at six other universities across the nation, receiving $2 million in support via a partnership with Dominion Energy, according to Elizabeth Nield, director of the Latino Initiative.
Leaders of the program say that approximately 85% of students who complete the summer bridge programs attend UVU for at least one semester after graduating from high school and about 40% of those students major in a STEM field.
“We believe in inclusive education,” said UVU President Astrid S. Tuminez. “We especially focus on creating opportunities for those who are underrepresented. Our Latino students bring rich cultural experience and amazing talents to our campus family. It thrills me to see so many of our Latino alums now in meaningful careers and actively involved in our community — and to know that UVU has been part of their journey.”
Nield envisions providing services and programs to encourage inclusion, remove barriers, foster cultural competence and guide students’ journey to success, with a goal of creating a home away from home and a refuge for Latino and Hispanic students at UVU.
“UVU’s Latino students come from a variety of backgrounds with varying needs,” Nield said. “This population has broad, diverse identities. All students have different challenges depending on their circumstances.”
UVU senior Hector Cedillo, president of UVU’s Latino Leadership Council, says the biggest thing he tries to communicate at community outreach events is that there are no limits to what Latinos can do in life.
“Sometimes people think Latinos come to the U.S. just to work, you know, construction and restaurants, things like that,” he said. “When in reality, we have the potential, the capacity, the skills, the knowledge to become a CEO of a company, become a business owner. There are so many more things that we can do.”
UVU also has been recognized as an Outstanding Member Institution by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities for its pioneering efforts to assist Latino and other unrepresented populations find their path in higher education, Nield added.
In addition to the university’s educational programming, UVU is encouraging Latino-focused events, such as Bachata Fest, an annual dance event and scholarship fundraiser featuring Latin American music, to help students and community members preserve and embrace their culture, even if they are a long way from their countries of origin.
“We don’t want students to lose their cultural background,” Nield said. “That’s so important for us. When another person knows about your culture, they can get to know you. You’re not putting on a mask. You don’t think, ‘Oh, I need to be another person because I don’t fit here.'”