NEW YORK — The Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) organization on Tuesday convened its Education Summit 2010 in New York and launched the ‘Generation 1st Degree’ program, which aims to fulfill the foundation’s goal of helping Hispanic families attain a college degree in every household.
Summit attendees included representatives of the corporate world, foundations, HSF alumni and students. HSF President Frank D. Alvarez said a significant intention of the summit was to actively engage corporations in the program’s mission.
“To arrive at 14 million degrees is a monumental undertaking,” said Alvarez. “We want them to carry the message into stores, into their services … to invest back into the community.”
One approach the campaign may take is working with corporations to develop education-related incentives, such as reward points that can be applied to a college savings plan, according to Alvarez. A big part of HSF’s work is educating parents that may not have gone to college themselves about how they can help their children go to college, Alvarez said.
“We want to be able to mobilize workers in corporations that are Hispanic to be mentors for the parents,” he said. “This is a movement about trying to embrace Hispanic parents and help them help their kids get to college.
“While all of America should be driving toward a degree in every household, there are particular cultural issues that Hispanics need help in overcoming. One is there’s not a history. Another is debt aversion. … It takes trusted organizations working together,” Alvarez said.
Frank Ros, a vice president at Coca-Cola, has been part of HSF’s board for 14 years. His message for summit attendees new to HSF was to look at the college completion goal as a business move. Corporations will need more talent and more skills, Ros emphasized to a Diverse correspondent.
Part of HSF’s vision is to increase degree attainment from 19 percent of Hispanics to 60 percent by 2025, which is expected to play a significant role in the U.S. reaching President Barack Obama’s goal for the nation to be the top country in college graduation rates by the year 2020. The thrust of the Generation 1st Degree campaign is to close the degree gap that exists between Hispanic students and their non-Hispanic peers.
“Ten years ago, we started with the goal of doubling the rate of Latinos that had a college education. We came very close. Now we have a new goal,” said Raul R. Romano, chairman of the board of HSF. “HSF can be the beacon telling others, ‘We have to put a degree in every Latino household.’”
“We have to have partners, like Coca-Cola, Toyota, Wells Fargo and Time Warner helping us get there. … It’s a shared vision of where we’re going,” Romano said.
The summit presented the first class of HSF Obama Scholars. These are six students who will receive scholarship money from Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize money. The president did not make any special stipulations about the use of the money and HSF decided to target it towards students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Each of the scholars received a personal note from the First Family.
“I would like to think of the six that were here today on stage as each one a stand-in for a million others,” said Dewayne A. Matthews, vice president of policy and strategy for the Lumina Foundation.
“I have to thank President Obama for investing in my dream,” said Janine Flores, a junior biology major at St. John’s University who plans to become a researcher.
“All throughout my life, I’ve had very supportive teachers and professors, and I think that’s the reason why I’m here,” she added.
Obama scholar Richard Ossa, a junior at the New Jersey Institute of Technology emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia a decade ago. As he struggled to learn English in middle school, he sometimes heard he wouldn’t get far because of his language skills. He took it as motivation to work harder.
“A year later, I was onto high school taking AP classes and excelling,” said Ossa, a chemical engineering major. He said he had teachers and a guidance counselor who encouraged him every step of the way.
A large part of why his parents came to the U.S. was so he and his siblings could go to college. “My dream has always been to fulfill their dreams,” Ossa said.
Stephanie Montano, a marketing major and math minor at the University of Arizona, works in her university’s admissions office doing minority recruitment. She also participates in a mentoring program that goes to middle schools.
“We instill the idea (that college is) possible,” she said.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also spoke to the summit and noted changes he’s made in New York public schools during his tenure. Since he assumed mayoral control of the schools in 2002, graduation rates have risen 16 percent and achievement gaps have narrowed, he said. The PSATs are now free to take, which is a great beginning point for making students realize college is an option. There is also greater access to AP courses.
Forming partnerships with corporations has created greater opportunities in New York. For example, IBM launched a program that enrolls students while in ninth grade and educates them through an associate’s degree, according to Bloomberg.