Keynote speaker Juan Gonzalez encouraged first generation students to get a college education at the fourth annual Latino Education Access and Development Conference Saturday in the Sports Science and Athletics Pavilion.
Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News, said that with more first generation Mexican-Americans entering college in the coming years, preparation is vital.
“You are the future, but you need an education,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez encouraged the audience to dream big, but take the right steps in order to achieve their goals.
Zolia Escobar, senior vice president of strategic development and community support and president of the AltaMed Foundation, led the conference.
Escobar is also an alumna of the University of La Verne. She received her bachelor’s degree in health services in 2009 and master’s in business services in 2013. “Many times there’s no preparation given to the student or their parents about how to enter college,” Escobar said. As Escobar acknowledged, many first generation Latino students are new to the college environment and may not have guidance on pursuing higher education.
With LEAD, it is meant to make that road easier for Latino students with the guidance they seek.
There were a few panels that present a variety of things on higher education.
They were about selecting the right major, the resources available to college students and also workshops on how to be financially prepared for college.
President Devorah Lieberman said that LEAD’s goal was not to recruit students to the school but instead, to educate them and their families about higher learning and accessing it.
Associate Professor of Biology Jerome Garcia, who graduated from La Verne in 1998, also said that students should not pick just any institution, but one that fits their individual skill set.
“Most of these students are first generation students,” Garcia said. “They don’t have a parent or family member who’s gone through this process. So one of the reasons why I got involved in this conference is to help expose them to the idea of college, what is expected of them and how to maximize their time in college.”
Garcia led three panels, which were geared toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.
In addition to going over the similarities and differences of public and a private universities, Garcia acknowledged that his first year at La Verne was a struggle.
It is because he was one of the few people of color on campus.
Garcia said he was close to dropping out, but luckily faculty helped guide him in the right direction, which he feels is crucial for young college students.
“Mentoring for this population – and when I say this population, first generation students – I think it’s essential,” Garcia said.
To go along with the struggles of being able to fit in, students also have to worry about the financial responsibility of college.
Many students are not able to afford going to a community college or even a four-year.
As Escobar and Garcia both said, many students bring up Steve Jobs as someone who was successful without a college degree.
Escobar, however, does not buy into this myth that you do not need a college degree in order to order to be successful.
“Everyone needs a college degree if they are going to continue living in the United States or in any industrialized country,” Escobar said.
Chris McMahan can be reached at email@example.com.