Maira Rivera headshot

Mentoring LatinX Students in the College

Hispanic/Latino Student Advocacy and Mentoring Team: Helping to Jump the Hurdles to College Success

Hispanics and Latinos are the second-fastest growing portion of our national population, according to the U.S. census. As their population continues to grow, Hispanic and Latino enrollment in higher education has risen at least 180% since 1999. However, they continue to lag behind other ethnic groups in obtaining a four-year degree, according to the Pew Research Center.

Despite comprising the third-largest ethnic minority at VCU, Hispanic and Latino men have the lowest graduation rate in the College of Humanities and Sciences, with 42.5% of Hispanic and Latino students from 2009-2016 graduating, based on information compiled by the Dean’s office.

The Hispanics/Latinos Student Advocacy and Mentoring Team was established by the College of Humanities and Sciences last year to enhance the educational experience of Hispanic/Latino students at VCU and foster their academic success through mentorship.

The team, which is composed of Hispanic and Latino members of the VCU faculty, staff and students, spent last year conducting focus groups of the student population in an attempt to identify the barriers impeding their academic success and considering initiatives to help overcome those barriers.

“The documented disparities in enrollment and graduation rates are an indication of the gaps in educational opportunities experienced by Latinos/Hispanics in the USA. It is too simplistic to say that those disparities are only the result of their socio-economic backgrounds. Other important factors to consider are citizenship status, primary language, and racial/ethnic backgrounds,” said Maria Rivera, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at VCU and member of the Hispanic/Latino Student Support and Mentoring Team. “It is important to highlight the positive influence peers from similar cultural backgrounds have in helping students to be successful in college. One of the goals of our team is to encourage the students to develop networks of peers and mentors that can help them develop the resiliency needed to complete their degrees.”

As part of their mission to increase Hispanic and Latino retention and degree attainment at VCU, last year Rivera took Valeria Rivas-Cruz, an undergraduate biology student, under her wing in 2016 and mentored her throughout her final semester at the College.

“Having someone that actually was successful, telling you that it’s possible and that you can do it too, is a great motivation,” said Rivas-Cruz.

Rivera gave her mentee a research assistant position at her biology lab and helped her to apply to an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. Though Rivas-Cruz graduated nearly two years ago, she remains in touch with her mentor and continues to be motivated by their relationship.

“She continues to pressure me, she’s always asking me when are you going to take your MCAT? She’s always keeping an eye on me,” Rivas-Cruz said.

In the future, the Hispanic and Latino Student Mentoring Team plans to use the findings from their focus groups to develop programs and strategies to further enhance the educational experience of Hispanic and Latino students at VCU.

This year the other active members of the team include Santiago Lima (Biology), Oswaldo Moreno (Psychology), Anita Nadal (World Studies), Fernando Tenjo (Biology), M. Carolina Yaber (Biology), and Barbara Ingber from VCU Globe. They encourage students to contact them individually for more information about how to get involved.

Written by Megan Schiffres
May 10, 2018