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(From left) USDA fellows Claudia Mosqueda, Edward Beanes, Maria Goldberg, Jesse Ortiz and Don Borges at the AACC offices in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Ellie Ashford
Ten educators from Hispanic-serving higher education institutions spent two weeks in Washington, D.C., this summer learning how their colleges can take advantage of resources at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The educators are members of the 2013 class of the E. Kika De La Garza Fellowship Program. De La Garza represented Texas’ 15th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives (1965-97), chaired the House Agriculture Committee (1981-94) and co-founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
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The competitive fellowship program is open to faculty, administrators and staff members at accredited institutions with full-time student enrollments that are at least 25 percent Hispanic.
Five of this year’s fellows are focused on science. They spent most of their time in Washington with scientists from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. That group included an educator from Miami Dade College; the rest are from four-year institutions.
The other five focused on education and are all from community colleges. They learned about federal programs and the policymaking process at USDA and other federal agencies. The group also met with representatives from nongovernmental organizations, including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Aspen Institute and Excelencia in Education.
Seeking opportunities for students
During their visit to AACC, Edward Beanes, a job development specialist at Napa Valley College in California, said he was most interested in learning about career pathways, including opportunities for middle and high school students, in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Many of the students Beanes works with are first-generation college students who need extra assistance finding internships and jobs in wineries, tourism and other industries in the Napa Valley.
Tapping lesser-known federal programs
Claudia Mosqueda, a student services advisor at the Richard J. Daley campus of the City Colleges of Chicago, said the fellowship program provided lots of information she will pass along to students about paid internship opportunities with the federal government. While her college doesn’t offer a degree in agriculture, Mosqueda is interested in learning how USDA programs relate to STEM fields. Her goals include getting more women into STEM programs and making sure STEM students are prepared for a smooth transition to a university.
Don Borges, grant director in the agricultural department at Modesto Junior College in California, values the networking opportunities offered by the fellowship program, as well as the wealth of resources and best practices he is taking back to his college.
“Internships play a key role for students as they transition from the education chapter of life to the career chapter,” he said.
Closing the success gap
Borges said communications need to improve in both directions between government agencies and colleges. Policymakers in Washington “need to know what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “We want to make sure the policies work so the community benefits.”
“We want to help Hispanics understand the educational resources available to them,” but it’s also important for community college leaders and policymakers to understand the needs of Latino students, added Jesse Ortiz, a counselor at Woodland Community College in California.
Currently, there seems to be a disconnect, Ortiz said. Policymakers want community colleges to be more data driven, while colleges need better support systems and remediation programs to help students succeed.
“We hope they’re getting a better understanding of how community colleges work,” he said.
The current budget-cutting climate Washington is squeezing many programs, including internships, which is making those initiatives much more competitive, the fellows learned. Nevertheless, Mosqueda noted, “a lot of people we met with seem hopeful.”
Developing a pipeline
While the population of Hispanics in community colleges is dramatically increasing, there is concern that their graduation rates are not keeping pace, Beanes said.
Three out of four Latinos in higher education are in community colleges, but not enough of them are going into STEM fields and the more technical agricultural programs, Ortiz noted.
“The ultimate goal is to close the achievement gap,” he said.
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Beanes said that while USDA officials brought Latinos to meet with the fellows whenever possible, “the message was clear—we need more Latinos to work on these programs.”
Hispanics are underrepresented at USDA, acknowledged Maria Goldberg, executive director of the department’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program. The situation is improving, though, she said, noting that one of USDA’s key goals in engaging with these institutions is to make sure there is a pipeline for future employment.
“Community colleges are a key piece in Hispanic education. We’re helping people understand how important community colleges are and that they need to be funded,” Goldberg said.
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges