Moraine Valley Community College

Administration October 2023 PREMIUM

Wraparound Services Key to Success for Latina/o/x Students

By Jessica Crotty

As a first-generation Latino student in his third semester at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois, Francisco Gomez is balancing a full load of classes, work, homework and participation in school activities. While his parents have been supportive of him attending college, oftentimes they don’t know what’s going on because they did not have the college experience. Without them to guide him, resources and wraparound services on campus have played a big part in helping Gomez – and other Latina/o/x students – feel accepted and successful at Moraine Valley, now a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI).

Resources for Gomez included joining the Alliance of Latin American Students (ALAS), Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Honors Program. The relationship Gomez has formed with Christopher Mendoza, a student success specialist in the Student Success Department, has had a strong impact. They meet weekly to discuss course selections and future plans, and Mendoza offers Gomez life advice. Mendoza also created a Latino Mentoring Program that Gomez said has been particularly helpful.

“Christopher has been a big part of helping me through college. He’s a great resource, and I really need that. People like him and student clubs on campus have helped tremendously because college is difficult to navigate, but they help create a plan of action to get you where you need to be,” Gomez said. “Through ALAS, I can network with people who are similar to me, create new friends and form connections.” 

Mendoza came to Moraine Valley about nine months ago after working at two other HSI institutions. In his role, he facilitates financial literacy workshops in relation to students’ academic progress, hosts family information sessions and assists with the early alert system (Starfish). Upon his hiring, he expressed interest in working with Latina/o/x students for a variety of reasons, retention and completion being the biggest.

“I provide outreach, making sure they know who I am. Every semester, I send an introduction email to my special populations, one of which is Latina/o/x students, explaining the services I can provide, asking them to reach out if they have any questions, and then following up to see how their semester is going or to remind them it’s time to register. With that came the creation of the Latino Mentoring Program,” Mendoza said.

The program is open to any Latina/o/x student enrolled at Moraine Valley. Currently, he has a handful of consistent students who either attend a bi-weekly meeting or meet one-on-one with him. During the meetings, he sets up presentations with key departments such as Financial Aid and Academic Advising, so they can ask questions to address their specific issues. He also encourages them to be active on campus by attending events such as Fall Fest, where students can sign up for clubs and organizations and find resources from campus departments, and Voces, which is an event where undecided Latina/o/x students can talk to faculty from various academic programs about careers and majors, so they take the right classes for the degree they want.

“I always try to explain to them that once they build the community here on campus, it becomes a comfortable space because sometimes I hear them say it seems intimidating. Students know what to ask. They just don’t know how to ask it. I tell them that once you get yourself out there, go to events, participate, get to know people and more students, walking around campus doesn’t seem that intimidating anymore,” Mendoza said. 

Moraine Valley’s enrollment team tries to create that welcoming atmosphere for Latina/o/x students and their families from the start. It does so by offering recruitment initiatives such as Spanish-language open house sessions and informational materials; holding FAFSA workshops to address their barriers to financial aid; and helping undocumented students complete the Illinois Alternative Application so they can receive state aid to matriculate into college. 

Moraine Valley also has identified two staff members as liaisons to help facilitate support options for undocumented students. Aurora Zwick, manager of the English Language Learner Center in Multicultural Student Affairs, is one of the liaisons and works to make students aware of the support and resources available to them, including the Retaining Illinois Students and Equity Act, which allows undocumented students to apply for all forms of state financial aid; finding scholarships; and referring them to legal organizations that offer free support.

“There’s a lot of support services and resources out there, but many of our undocumented students are afraid to ask anyone, and they don’t know how to access those services. So, I’m here to help them get through all of that and build their confidence. If I can help someone, that’s another student who can continue their education and be successful,” Zwick said. 

Latina/o/x students benefit from programs such as the Title III grant that allowed the college to offer applied health care programs at the Education Center at Blue Island, one of its extension sites in an area with a heavy Latino population. The college is also working to diversify STEM disciplines through Greer Foundation scholarships. Of the 12 scholars receiving those funds, nine identify as Latino.

“We want to provide wraparound services but make sure we are doing it in a meaningful and authentic way,” said Dr. Dave Marcial, dean of Enrollment Services. “That’s one of the things I pride my team on. When we’re interacting with a student, it’s that soft handoff. If students need additional assistance, they don’t just say go upstairs. They ask if they can walk the student to the right office or call a staff member to meet them. Those little initiatives help all students, especially some of our most vulnerable populations, because it can influence their decisions to attend.”

Moraine Valley’s efforts have led to an increased Latina/o/x population, and Marcial attributes that to its ability to meet students’ needs. 

“Representation matters, so having diverse staff members can definitely help when we’re looking at Latino issues. We’re also able to show success with the students. I think that’s extremely important. It’s not just getting them in but getting them through. It’s important we provide equitable solutions for students,” he said.

About the author:

Jessica Crotty is the assistant director of Communications at Moraine Valley Community College. In her role, she manages media relations, speech writing for the Executive Leadership Team, student and employee communications, and plans institutional events.


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