Adriana Del Valle dreams of pursuing a career in medicine. The Worthington Kilbourne High School sophomore isn’t sure if she wants to be a doctor or a veterinarian, but one thing she has always been sure of is that college would be in her future. As a middle school student, Del Valle was told some startling information at an event regarding college and Latinos.
“When I heard that not all Latinos like me go to college, I was surprised,” Del Valle said. “It made me sad to think that a lot of the people I see in my everyday life, that they would never go to college.”
The Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research mentoring program provides networking and resources to Latino high school students throughout Columbus, as well as opportunities to help students apply and maneuver their way through college admissions and financial aid.
LASER was started at Ohio State in 2009, founded by Frederick Aldama, a professor of English, Spanish and Portuguese. His goal was to design a program with the hopes of creating a college track for Columbus’ growing population of young Latinos.
The program describes itself as a “total mentoring system” –– one that is both a network for Latino students to meet and grow as a community and also a pipeline for high school students to transition into college. LASER works with students starting in the ninth grade and can run all the way through one’s college career.
LASER began with students from South-Western City Schools in Galloway, a city west of Columbus, who carpooled to campus to meet with graduate students for mentoring, as well as interacted with Latino culture through film screenings and speakers.
Since then, LASER has planted “hubs” at high schools all over the city. High school students meet weekly during lunch with their mentors, usually three to five undergraduates and two to three graduate students. During this time, students can apply for scholarships, write college essays or go over homework questions.
Some hubs meet after school at local libraries, while other mentors meet with students from rural schools regularly over Skype. LASER also provides space in Hagerty Hall for students to meet.
While undergraduates work mainly as mentors, graduate students act as hub coordinators, working with the schools for programming and curriculum. Maria Lerma — a graduate student in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and a West Hub I coordinator — said LASER is something she wishes she had when she was in high school.
“As a first generation college student, I know the fears, especially from the money side,” Lerma said. “But it’s nice to be able to say (to students), ‘I’ve been in your seat and I know what it’s like, but don’t worry, we’re here to help.’”
LASER also hosts a number of workshops during the year that go over topics such as how to apply for FAFSA and College Credit Plus. Aldama considers these workshops to be an invaluable resource to these students, as it is a lack of resources and knowledge that prevents many Latinos from going to college.
“All of these students are really capable,” Aldama said. “But they just don’t have the infrastructure at their schools that directs them the right way. The system does not know what to do with Latinos.”
Although unsure of exact numbers, Aldama estimates that hundreds of students have come through the program. He is certain, however, that every student who has come through LASER has been accepted to college.
As for Del Valle, she is confident that college is the right choice for her. She said, thanks to LASER, she knows college can be a reality not just for her, but for all Latinos.
“LASER opens a door of opportunities,” Del Valle said. “It tells you to look to the future and college. School doesn’t stop after high school. You can have a better life.”
LASER is open to all students to join as mentors and join by contacting Aldama at email@example.com.