El Centro launches program for first-year, first-generation Latino students

Nicole Towne

At Colorado State University, one in four students is a first-generation college student. This semester, El Centro launched a new program, La Conexión, which provides a first-year mentoring group for low-income, first-generation Latino students. 

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Joanna Godina-Aldana, a senior sociology major, and Stephanie Fernandez, a junior HDFS major, are student leaders in La Conexión. (Photo Credit: Cisco Mora.)

According to its mission statement, “the purpose of La Conexión is to foster a strong sense of community, cultural pride, student engagement and academic confidence for Latino students at CSU.”

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There are currently 45 students participating in the year-long program. These students are split into six groups, known as families, and are led by a peer mentor, known as the family leader. The families meet for two hours once a week to learn about campus involvement, academic skills, personal development and leadership skills.

“Our main goal (at El Centro) is to have a home away from home,” said Sebastian Franco, a family leader.

La Conexión provides a place for students facing similar challenges to come together and be able to ask questions.

“Students who are not first generation have a little more guidance from their parents on how to navigate college and how to get certain resources, but students who are first generation don’t have people to ask about those questions,” said Samantha Borrego, a CSU alumna and the La Conexión coordinator.

As the program’s coordinator, Borrego not only wants the students to be able to get their questions answered, but she also wants to help them overcome many of the insecurities and worries she faced when she was a freshman.

“I felt a little uncomfortable about being the only Latino student in my classes,” Borrego said. “I felt a little uncomfortable about being from a low-income family because I was constantly stressed about how I was going to pay for my classes, and it didn’t appear that anyone else was having those same concerns. I was also really embarrassed that my family wasn’t college-educated.”

The program provides an outlet for students to share challenges they are facing that many other students on campus cannot relate to. They share concerns about missing home-cooked meals, missing speaking Spanish on a daily basis, feeling guilty for not being able to help take care of siblings at home, worrying about how to cover the financial expenses of a college education and desiring the strong sense of family and community they left behind.

“I’m really excited that El Centro is putting on a program like this because it is something that I could have benefited (from) as a first-year student,” said Gabriela Perez, a family leader for El Conexión. “I’m really excited to see where it grows from here.”

Jose Misael Madera, a La Conexión student, is studying construction management and described his time so far in the program as invaluable. It has not only helped him academically, but has helped to build numerous friendships.

“It gives a sense of family that you leave behind,” Madera said. “There’s times where I just need a place to go to let loose and catch my thoughts again, and I tend to go to El Centro because there is always a helping hand there. You might not know a person in there or anyone, in fact, but they are always willing to help you in one way or another.”

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El Centro welcomes all students to come and celebrate the conclusion of National Latino Heritage Month Oct. 15 from 12 – 2 p.m. with food and activities. El Centro is located in room 225 in the Lory Student Center or can be reached at (970) 491-5722.

Collegian Reporter Nicole Towne can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @nicole_towne21.