Guest column by Gina Ponce de León, Ph.D., director of the Spanish program and ALAS Title V Project Director
I give thanks to God every day for giving me the opportunity to work at a Hispanic Serving Institution and experiencing the never-ending possibilities of serving our students. Today we are in the troubling times; we need to stand strong in our beliefs and our values. At FPU we have an amazing group of students beginning their path toward a better future for them and their families and, consequently, for our society. We have among us a group of people that represents diversity—in race, color, age and gender.
Because a great number of students at FPU are Hispanic, we had the opportunity to apply for the Department of Education Title V grant and…we were awarded! We named our grant ALAS, which translates to “wings” in English, as an acronym for Advancing Latino Academic Success. We use ALAS as a symbolic statement of our wish that our students reach graduation and “fly away” to a successful future. The grant has given us the chance to embody the FPU mission, with a more specific focus on first-generation and first-year students—a high percentage of which are Hispanic students.
The ALAS Title V grant was designed to strengthen the university’s efforts to serve students in the following ways: first and foremost, supporting those registered in our ALAS program by providing/coordinating services in academic support, career services and peer mentoring. We have many resources for our ALAS students, including the new Intercultural Learning Center (ILC). The ILC has advanced technology and our students will be able to print free copies and use new laptops. The center also provides a space for all FPU students to come to study, or relax or simply meet with friends. The ILC welcomes faculty and staff as well, to enjoy a cup of coffee with us…for free!
The ILC mission statement is: “Building bridges between people through dialogue, understanding of culture and interpersonal interactions.” We believe our ALAS-ILC, as part of FPU, will help develop our students as future leaders, shaping their identity as well as our own, by means of providing dialogue and understanding about diversity issues in a safe environment for diverse expressions.
One of our grant objectives the development of “Culturally Embedded Curriculum (CEC),” in which we sponsor faculty members who would like to revise courses or requirements, mainly in general education, to cover more culturally diverse topics. I have been asked by faculty “What is CEC?” The answer is simple, but not easy: place yourself in the position of your students, learn about their history and undertake the conflicting environment related to identity issues and self-esteem that some of them face. We understand our Hispanic students belong to a strong culture that has been undermined for many reasons that we all know too well. Our students need a place that provides them a sense of belonging, and encourages them to embrace their cultural backgrounds. Because we serve so many of these students, the CEC will play an important role in providing them the means to discover the value in their own identity. Due to many of our first-generation students being of Hispanic descent, we encourage faculty to include some percentage of Hispanic content in their revised courses. This is where our FPU faculty play an essential role in our objective.
The idea of CEC and the ILC came from my own experience in the classes I teach. I noticed that my Hispanic students were happy knowing and understanding the value of their own culture, and because I was encouraging this, I established a strong connection with these students. Something even more valuable came from that experience: the sense of belonging my students developed. Their surroundings became part of their own growing and the campus became part of their family. We, faculty and staff, are the agents of the past that construct our student’s future, helping them merge into the community knowing and valuing who they are. This is not new for any of the faculty members at FPU, but it is new if we want to include this as an objective of our CEC general education courses. We can reinforce our student’s identity as a path to success!
I am astounded at how different things happened at the same time and how we connect to each other in trying to achieve the same objective without knowing it. We need our students more than they need us because they make us who we are. Each and every one of them is here to show me the path to follow. They represent a new era and they help me to place myself in the new times and become stronger in my desire to include these amazing people that are placing in our hands the most vulnerable time of their lives.