CSU named National Hispanic Institute university of the year

Ellie Mulder

Colorado State University programs created to support the Hispanic population have changed lives, kept students in school and encouraged academic success, according to participants. CSU has been recognized for these efforts as the 2014 National Hispanic Institute University of the Year after a 25-year partnership.

“Colorado State University has set a high standard for strategic partners who work with NHI in developing youth leaders,” said president and founder of NHI Ernesto Nieto, according to the organization’s Facebook page.

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CSU partners with NHI to host programs such as the Lorenzo De Zavala Youth Legislative Session, a summer high school leadership program.

CSU also supports the Hispanic community through on-campus organization El Centro. The group offers programs, resources and Latino/a cultural awareness.

Claudia Hernandez enjoys the company of her friends, Angelica Cruz and Sonia Cortez Tuesday afternoon in the El Centro office. Much the time Hernandez and other CSU students spend in El Centro is about meeting like-minded people and building relationships.
Created in 1979 as one of five offices under the Group Advocacy Program—now Student Diversity Programs and Services—El Centro serves as a supportive and educational resource for all CSU students. The El Centro office is located in room 178 on the main level of the LSC. (Collegian file photo)

Salazar, a University of Northern Colorado graduate, said that her experience with an organization similar to El Centro made a significant impact on her life.

“I can tell you that if it wouldn’t have been for that program, I probably wouldn’t have graduated,” El Centro Director Guadalupe Salazar said. “They made a difference in my life, they provided me with the resources that I needed to be successful … just having that mentorship there in that office made the whole difference for me … so when I graduated from UNC, I really wanted to be in a position where I could pay it forward.”

Challanne Finn, a sophomore journalism and media communications student, works for El Centro and participated in LDZ before attending CSU. She said both have impacted her college experience in a positive way.

“(LDZ) is just (about) building your leadership and your confidence,” Finn said. “It kind of put you in that position where you think, ‘I really could do this. I could step up. I could be a better leader. I know how to speak for myself and for others as well, and represent my culture and heritage in a better way than some might portray it.’ As a college student now, I take the lessons that I learned then and I apply them to everyday life.”

Finn attributes much of her success, confidence and comfort at CSU to her participation in El Centro’s programs.

“My first year (at CSU) I felt really alone, only because it (wasn’t) a very diverse campus at the time,” Finn said. “Meeting Lupe was kind of like going home to my mom, because she’s always like calling everybody mija or mijo (my daughter or my son), and it’s just nice to know there are people that are still like that here. … When I feel homesick or lonely I just come into the office, and I feel so much better.”

Tomás Arguello, sophomore eco-science and sustainability major, also works at El Centro. He said the support he has received at CSU has been important to him.

“(El Centro) really takes the campus and makes it a lot smaller,” Arguello said. “People coming from different backgrounds look for people who are the same as them, to feel comfortable and to be academically, and spiritually and emotionally stable. If you’re thrown in an uncomfortable environment, it’s more of a culture shock thing, but this place kind of takes that shock away.”

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With its programs for the Hispanic population at CSU, El Centro aims to provide academic support, opportunities for leadership and a fun, comfortable environment for students.

“If (students) feel good about this institution, they are going to share their positive experiences at CSU with other students, so we’ll continue to have other Latinos entering the University, and that’s what we have,” Salazar said. “We have families, and generations of families coming to CSU, and many have a relationship with El Centro.”

Collegian Reporter Ellie Mulder can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @lemarie.