MACON – Mercer’s Spanish program is making lasting efforts to form connections both inside and outside the University through its inaugural Hispanic Education Fair and by assisting the Georgia Student Finance Commission with translating resources for Spanish-speaking families across the state.
The Hispanic Education Fair on April 23 featured various workshops to assist Hispanic families with the college application process and a tour of Mercer – spoken completely in Spanish.
The mission of the event was to both recruit more Hispanic students to Mercer and empower Spanish-speaking parents and students with information and resources to help them succeed in the educational system and pursue higher education.
Student organizations, including the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Latin American Student Organization, Spanish Club, Hispanic Health Organization and French Club hosted tables to share information about their activities on campus.
The fair also featured a panel, led by Spanish-speaking Mercer students, to provide prospective students, parents and guardians with information about campus life, student affairs, the college application process and more.
One of the leaders of the event was School of Engineering student Kimberly Lopez. As a first-generation college student, she believes that such events showcase the opportunities available for people of all walks of life at Mercer.
“Before coming to Mercer, I had no idea about scholarships, research or internships, and I could never ask my parents questions because they did not attend college,” Lopez said. “This event also reminds Hispanic students, like me, that we have a presence on campus and that there is strength in numbers.”
Another student participant was Samantha Vaquero-Covarrubias, a freshman journalism major, who believes the fair offered the opportunity for Hispanic families to know that the sky is the limit for pursuing an education.
“I was super excited to participate because the number of Hispanic students that attend a college is quite low, since most Hispanic students believe it’s unattainable or isn’t encouraged to pursue a degree,” Vaquero-Covarrubias said. “It was so much fun to speak Spanish and connect with the Hispanic families. It was such a beautiful day to advocate for the Hispanic community.”
The event was spearheaded by Libertad Aranza, lecturer of Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Tracy Martinez, assistant director of admissions and athletic recruitment in the Office of University Admissions.
Aranza was also a first-generation college student and wanted to create an opportunity to give back to Hispanic families, particularly parents and guardians, who may not know or have the resources to interpret the plethora of tasks involved in the college application process.
“I went through the same thing and had to find my way to find out what I needed to do,” Aranza said. “My dad didn’t know anything about the process and was like, ‘Oh, you’re smart, and you can figure it out,’ and I soon found out that I couldn’t do it alone. For every student, knowing that you have a support system makes all the difference, even if they don’t know where to start.”
The resounding reaction to the event from the families proved to be overwhelmingly positive, Aranza said. She noted that parents were comfortable and asked lots of questions, which proved that the participating families felt welcomed and free to interact with University representatives.
Additionally, this past semester, Aranza taught a service-learning class, SPN 385, that focused on translating English to Spanish in various contexts. As an individual who participated in service-learning experiences as an undergrad and as a teaching assistant at the graduate level, she desired to connect her students with their community.
“I was exposed to the idea of service-learning early, and as a TA I helped connect the community with different corporations to work with my professor,” Aranza said. “I thought why shouldn’t we do this at Mercer, as well?”
Aranza reached out to several organizations in advance of the class to add this service component. She heard back from the Georgia Student Finance Commission, the organization that created the GeorgiaFutures platform and the Zell Miller and HOPE scholarships.
“The Georgia Student Finance Commission offers a variety of multilingual student resources on GAfutures.org, such as the multilingual virtual chat adviser,” said Georgia Student Finance Commission President Lynne Riley. “We applaud the students in Mercer University’s Grammar and Culture course for their efforts to help further expand these multilingual resources as part of their service-learning project.”
Students in the class diligently translated the terminology in the resource books from English to Spanish, including topics such as financial aid information, FAFSA grant acquisition, applying for loans and more.
Aranza believes that this experience will create a bigger window for Hispanic families to consider higher education for their children that will result in a ripple effect for years to come.
“One thing I emphasized with my students is how big this translation is going to impact others,” Aranza said. “This will be useful for many years to come.”
High school counselors have already begun using the translated resources and distributing them to Hispanic students and parents.
Ultimately, the Spanish program in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is making the Mercer experience – and the experience of higher education across the state – more accessible, one family at a time.
“That’s what the Mercer mission is all about – creating global learners who give back to the community,” Aranza said.