From LJWorld.com, Andy Hyland, 20 Jun 2011.
When Dagoberto Heredia first came to Kansas University, he found himself the only Latino on the floor of his residence hall and the only Latino in many of his classes.
“There’s a multicultural population at KU, but it’s not very big,” said Heredia, who recently graduated with a degree in psychology and Latin American studies.
A summer program housed at KU is designed to help high school students break down some of those barriers to attending college — not just the cultural ones, but all the rest of them, too.
It’s called Harvest of Hope, and it’s designed for migrant workers in Kansas — meaning students whose families have moved in the previous three years and are working in one of several agricultural jobs.
Stacy Mendez, the project’s coordinator, said that means the program has about 80 percent Latino students, but it attracts students from all kinds of backgrounds.
One of about 50 students enrolled in the program this year hails from the Asian country of Myanmar, she said.
The students take classes, visit schools, talk with other minority students at KU and learn about all the daunting mechanisms associated with college, like admissions, financial aid and scholarship essays.
They also stay in Templin residence hall for the three-week program.
“It really lets them see that college is attainable for everyone, not just a specific population,” Heredia said.
He has worked with the program in the past as a volunteer. Though he’s not a first-generation college student — his father graduated from college — he said he did have a bit of a jarring experience when he moved from a high school in Great Bend to KU.
“I think it’s the best program I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with,” he said.
Mendez said the group tries to give the students an opportunity to see all kinds of colleges — this year, the group visited Kansas State, Baker and Washburn universities, as well as Johnson County Community College.
Alejandra Hernandez-Castro is the program’s academic adviser and recruitment coordinator. She graduated from KU and is from a migrant-worker family herself.
The program is funded by the state department of education. During the year, Hernandez-Castro often tours the state, putting on weeklong college prep workshops. She also often fields academic questions by phone and gets to know several of the students personally, as many return for more than one session.
She said the goal is to prepare students for college and to get them to have confidence in their abilities.
And, no, she said, “migrant worker” doesn’t necessarily mean “undocumented immigrant.” Many of the program’s participants were born in the United States, though the program doesn’t check the participants’ immigration status.
“We’re here to really help these students regardless of their documentation,” Hernandez-Castro said. “This is a group that’s really in need.”