“Lizy’s been a Huskie for a long time,” Prieto explains about the 2013 DeKalb High School graduate who is coming to NIU to study Community Leadership and Civic Engagement next week.
She first came into contact with Garcia through the LRC’s involvement with DeKalb High School’s Vanguardia Afirmativa de Latinos Unidos (VALU) group three years ago. The after school program was formed in 2007 to provide opportunities and empowerment to Latino and non-Latino high school students in the local community.
Today, VALU serves as a space where students can learn about their cultural heritage, build working relationships with NIU, participate in cultural field trips and events and engage in community service projects and socially responsible activism. Above all else, VALU is a safe space where students feel comfortable to speak freely, experience a home away from home, and build long lasting friendships.
As part of her experiences with VALU, Garcia participated in NIU college visits, where she shadowed current students and learned about the resources made available to her and others like her. She was hooked.
“I decided to come here because I really liked the support that the LRC and Emily, in particular, gave me,” Garcia explains. “I knew that I would have a support system at NIU. Being a first generation college student, being here at NIU will really help me.”
This past spring, Garcia was awarded NIU’s DeKalb County Scholarship and has also been selected as a Huskie Service Scholar through the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning (OSEEL). The best part for her is that she will be leading NIU’s participation in the VALU program.
Garcia became the youngest and only high school senior inducted into the Adela de la Torre Honor Society in Spring 2013, making her “a Huskie before she came to NIU,” according to Prieto.
Prieto says that as the summer winds down, the LRC is preparing to welcome more than 1,000 prospective students for NIU campus visits in the coming year.
“We’re a team here, and we work together to coordinate all of the school visits. We try to partner with five to six units across campus to expose students and provide them with as much social capital as possible,” she says. “It’s all about inclusion and providing opportunity and space for students to develop, grow and be a part of the university community.”
Growing a diverse and vibrant student body is a priority at NIU, and the LRC has a long history of partnering with high schools, community colleges and other organizations to host prospective Latino students on campus in collaboration with Admissions and other campus entities.
During these visits, students are introduced to NIU by way of talking to current students, participating in mock classroom sessions, going on a campus tour, hearing presentations by various departments including the Financial Aid Office, Admissions Office, College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Education, Office of Pre-collegiate Programs and more. By providing these opportunities, the LRC hopes to engage and captivate the minds of youth who have been overlooked by traditional recruitment techniques.
Jose J. Valencia, a graduate student studying counseling in College of Education, is in charge of organizing the site visits. He came to NIU after working as a college advisor at Waukegan High School, where he specialized in helping students in need access higher education. He says his experience with the LRC is what attracted him to NIU to pursue his graduate studies.
“The LRC at NIU practices what it preaches—not just by getting people in to school, but providing access and resources to complete a degree,” he explains. “The LRC is a lifesaver; it makes a big difference in the lives of students. The difference is that NIU follows through.”
In his new position as the outreach, recruitment and retention coordinator for the LRC, Valencia looks forward to helping students by organizing high school campus visits, hosting on site application workshops, and advising current students in addition to his other duties.
“First generation college goers need help in nearly every aspect,” he says. “The LRC does everything from identifying qualified students, guiding them along the college-going process and tracking them throughout, following up to ensure they realize their potential if college is in their plans.”
He conducts onsite admissions workshops, provides financial aid guidance, and even how to evaluate an award letter. When students arrive, he also makes sure they become familiarized with campus, helping them learn all the resources available to them to succeed.
Angelica Mendoza is the LRC’s assistant director and handles much of the logistics for the campus visits. She says “it is a team effort, but my role is ensuring that transportation, residence hall experiences, and other logistics happen. Our graduate and undergraduate students and the experiences they relay to students are the main reasons for the success NIU is having with this program.”
The campus visit schedule will be published soon on the LRC website. The center welcomes campus departments and organizations to participate in its high school visit process. Please email Emily Prieto or Jose Valencia to participate or to provide other NIU materials (notepads, clothing, pennants, etc.) for visiting students. To learn more about the Latino Resource Center, please visit the LRC website and/or “like” the LRC Facebook page.