The work promoting learning and excellence in the West Michigan region, fostered by Ferris State University’s Hispanic/Latino Cultural Center, begins long before students seek their degree in Big Rapids or through a Ferris Statewide location.
CLS Executive Director Kaylee Moreno Burke, an alumna of the university’s Social Work program and a first-year member of the latest Doctorate of Community College Leadership cohort at Ferris, was with the CLS from day one as a co-founder. Burke indicated that the Latin@ student has changed slightly over that time.
“It is motivating and gratifying to see the growth of campus and students. We continue to live up to the center’s original mission,” Burke said. “That includes providing an engaged community, helping students to develop as leaders, and working to provide a space for cultural identity exploration and community building within the university. We continue with great emphasis to support Latinx student access and graduation to their post-secondary goals.”
These goals are at the core of the center’s Promesa, or Promise programs. Promesa Avancemos affords seventh and eighth-grade students career exploration opportunities and direction on how they can best prepare for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning as their journey in education progresses.
Once qualified students from the Detroit, Grand Rapids, Holland and Oceana County areas reach the 10th grade, the Promesa Summer Success program is available as a summer learning opportunity. Burke said they use a compass as an image for the participants in this eight-week presentation journey through training on academics, college preparation information and exposure to cultural content.
“We offer them assistance in identifying financial resources for students, whether that comes from our campus or their community,” Burke said. “We bring speakers to the summer success sites who offer perspective on the college experience or help students develop an interest in exploring their cultural identity. There have been more than 500 students who have worked to navigate their future in the Promesa Summer Success program, and 80 percent of participants go on to complete their college education Ferris and other universities.”
CLS program pillars are at the root of the Promesa Scholars program, available to Ferris’ Latin@ first-year students. Participants receive support to promote their academic success and empowerment through leadership opportunities. Burke said the program structure helps participants successfully prepare for their lives as working professionals and community members.
“The center serves as a hub for these students, where we offer them an important sense of community, which includes their relationship with mentors or other scholars,” Burke said. “Building their level of understanding as college students, especially our first-generation participants, allows them to become confident contributors to a diverse campus community.”
In 2021, to expand the center’s campus outreach, it started a new Latinx College Completion Coaches offering to Hispanic/Latino students in their second to the fourth year of college. A near-peer coach is available to support their pursuit of a degree, navigate campus resources, and provide support from a peer-to-peer perspective. This program sees support from the Ferris Social Work department, where social work students serve as coaches and give an opportunity to practice their skill-set and further preparations to serve a diverse society.
Another CLS program recently developed is Amigos De Promesa Scholars, which focuses on internship and career readiness.
“We collaborated with Career and Professional Success (CAPS) staff and the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to increase access to high quality and compensated internship opportunities and targeted efforts to increase outreach to the Latinx community,” Burke said.
Additionally, CLS supports Latinx-based student organizations such as the Hispanic Student Organization, three Latinx fraternal organizations, and the Spanish Club, each of whom provides opportunities for any students to engage in leadership, community building, and thrive in an on-campus experience.
“I feel our future is bright and the students we serve are amazing. We are proud to advocate on their behalf so that they might achieve their dreams as professionals while becoming valuable contributors to their community.”
Burke said that collaboration is a core value of the community and guides our programming and growth. As a result, the office regularly collaborates with on-campus and off-campus partners.
“In the past, there was an emphasis to rally our students to the Cesar Chavez Day March in Grand Rapids, which is held annually in late March,” Burke said. “The programming schedule for Hispanic Heritage Month each fall, which included a Latin Xpo this year and events at Kendall College of Art and Design, showing what is possible when we collaborate with OMSS and other partner groups.”
Kaylee noted beyond CLS’ dedication to serving this student base, they also have a role in exposing the larger university community to the traditions and culture of Latin@ people.
“When the center opened, around 100 students or one percent of Ferris’ enrollment identified as Latin@,” Burke said. “That number has grown to just over five-and-a-half percent, so we are determined to provide meaningful programming for these students. Along with that, we work to educate the entire campus about our history and culture. People seem to know about Latin@ dance and are familiar with the cuisine with some understanding of the issues related to immigration.
“We are nearing our 10-year anniversary for the center,” Burke said. “The special programs we will offer to commemorate our accomplishments are in the first stages of development. I would be thrilled to have founding board members return with a celebratory fundraiser, which would afford the center and its decade of service to the university.”