There was a blur of sneakers running full-tilt across the campus of Bowling Green State University on Tuesday morning.
Excited brown faces visited dorm rooms and asked important questions like: “Are there curfews?”, and “Can you have parties?”
PHOTO GALLERY: El Encuentro, "The Encounter"
It was all part of Bowling Green State University’s “El Encuentro” or the encounter program, which brings hundreds of Latino high school students from Detroit and Cleveland to campus every year. The program is part of an aggressive effort to recruit more Latino students, one of the youngest and fastest growing populations in America, school officials said.
“The number of Latino students going to college is increasing,” said Laura Saavedra, an admissions counselor who started the El Encuentro program four years ago. “The purpose is to celebrate Latino culture and reach out to Latino students. We reach out to areas where there are large Latino populations.”
According to enrollment records, 660 Latino students are enrolled at Bowling Green State University this fall — 4 percent of the total student population.
In addition to presentations about why Bowling Green State University would be a great place to attend, the students also visited booths inside the Bowen-Thompson Student Union to learn about educational programs offered at the school.
The real action, however, took place outside. While several hundred students stayed behind for the presentation, the other half separated into small groups of six to eight students to complete a “scavenger hunt” that included visiting several campus landmarks — within 45 minutes. Successful groups won prizes.
Landmarks included a dorm room in Kohl Hall, the Administration Building, the Recreation Center, a campus seal, a specific statue on campus, and the library.
Ms. Saavedra said recruiting Latino students can be complicated because of cultural reasons.
“The thing we have to do when we recruit Latinos is we have to recruit the family, not just the students,” she said. “It’s recruiting the mother, the father, the grandmother, even the cousin; everyone has a say-so.”
El Encuentro was sponsored by the university’s office of admissions, said Gabe Lomeli, senior admissions counselor and the program’s master of ceremonies.
Mr. Lomeli encouraged students to not just think about the programs offered at Bowling Green State University, but use the visit as an opportunity to reflect on who they are and where they come from.
“We want you to get the feel of the Latino culture that exists at BGSU and the academic opportunities here,” Mr. Lomeli said. “I want you also to think about your family heritage — the sacrifices your parents, grandparents, all your ancestors made to give you the opportunity to get an education — and I want to make sure you understand and appreciate it."
That wasn’t a problem for many of the students, who said their parents and other family members encouraged them to attend college.
Alyssa Vasquez, 16, a junior at Detroit’s Western High School, wants to become a nurse, and credits her mother and father for inspiring her to believe in herself and pursue her dreams.
The parents of David Ve Luna, 16, also of Western, always told their son he needed a college education if he wanted a better life. He wants to become a dentist like his aunt, who owns and operates her own dental clinic.
“It’s a great inspiration to be able to visit a college,” he said. “Going to college is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Detroit resident Amanda Reyes, 16, wants to attend the University of Michigan and become a pediatrician. But she’s grateful that Bowling Green invited her to visit so that she could get a glimpse of what a college campus is like.
“My parents are really excited because I’ll be the first one in my family to go to college,” Ms. Reyes said. “I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited too.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.