by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
Beatriz Salazar and her fellow Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF) Scholar Chapter members had just finished giving a presentation to local teenagers about why college is important. As she was packing her bags to go, the senior psychology major heard one of the young Latina girls say, “I dropped out of high school.”
Salazar dropped her backpack, went over to the girl and asked her, “Why?!”
Salazar learned that the girl’s mother had died, her father was unsupportive and she was having emotional problems. Salazar emphasized why education was so important, offered to help however she could and gave the girl her phone number.
“I told her, ‘If you need a cheerleader, I’ll be your cheerleader,’” Salazar said. “I want you to finish high school.” Two weeks later, she received a text from the girl saying she had re-enrolled in high school and had her sights set on college.
“I was so proud of her,” Salazar said. “She said that I inspired her, but she was more inspiring to me, because she made the best of what she had and showed everyone she could do it.”
A College Degree in Every Latino Family
Salazar served for two years as president and is currently executive chair of CU Denver’s HSF Scholar Chapter, an on-campus student group that works to promote academic success and student engagement among Latino college students. The chapter is affiliated with the national HSF organization, which offers financial and educational resources to support Hispanic higher education. You don’t have to be an HSF scholarship recipient to join the Scholar Chapter.
“HSF is important, because we (Latino students) are a significant number on campus,” Salazar said.
The chapter members plan eight events per year, which cater to Latino high school and college students. They give presentations about why college is important, answer questions from students and their family members and offer hands-on support for things like admissions application and FAFSA forms.
“Through our chapter, we try to support HSF’s goal of achieving one college degree in every Latino family across the United States,” said Salazar, whose parents were both born in Mexico. Last year, her brother became the first in the family to graduate from college in the U.S., and in spring 2013, she’ll be the second.
closing the achievement gap
In a report from The Education Trust, CU Denver placed ninth on the “Top 25 Graduation-Rate Gap-Closers Among Public Institutions” list.
“Education is the key to success, and I want students to be successful and know that college isn’t always easy but that it’s worth it in the end,” she said. “I want to see even more Latino students graduate from CU Denver.”
The Scholar Chapter is also working to establish a mentoring program for Denver-area high school students to help them start planning for college. In addition to the Scholar Chapter, CU Denver has an operational partnership with HSF—the second of its kind in the nation—supports recruiting students and helping them graduate.
Celebrating a Culture
As Scholar Chapter president, Salazar said she put in an average of about five hours of work per week for the chapter—but the experience hasn’t been all work, no play.
The HSF chapter—which is open to all students on campus—also organizes social and cultural events to invite all students on campus to experience and learn about Hispanic culture. Salazar has fond memories of making Mexican sugar skull candies for their Day of the Dead celebration.
“Through HSF, we provide students with ethnic and cultural programs,” she said. “That’s one of the wonderful things about coming to CU Denver, that we’re very diverse.”
Salazar was able to attend a conference and training event in Minneapolis, and several of her fellow members have traveled to conferences in San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta.
The Key to Success
Through HSF Scholar Chapter membership, Salazar said she has benefitted from inspiring mentors, such as HSF Academic Advisor Margarita Bianco
, PhD, assistant professor in education, and HSF Program Officer Nancy Hernandez.
“I’ve had wonderful people to look up to,” Salazar said of her mentors. “If they can get through college and get PhDs, and they’re first-generation, what’s stopping me?”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without HSF,” she said.