Looking for Latino Leaders

February 1, 2012 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

Looking for Latino Leaders

What do Dr. Antonio Pérez and actor Alec Baldwin have in common? Both have graced 30 Rockefeller Plaza with their presence.

And while Pérez, the President of BMCC, doesn’t star in a hit TV sitcom like Baldwin, he recently shined in his own way.

Pérez was a featured panelist at an event aimed at improving the educational paths of Latino students in the United States, held at New York’s famous “30 Rock.”

Keeping the Promise: Partnerships for Latino Education Success, was organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institite, Inc., (CHCI) in conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NALEO, Excelencia, and Comcast/NBCUniversal/Telemundo.

According to the 2010 Census data, as the nation’s largest minority group, Latinos constitute more than 11 million students in America’s schools, representing nearly 20 percent of all Kindergarten to 12th grade students.

Yet, according to CHCI, only about half of all Latino students earn their high school diploma within four years, and those who do complete high school are only half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college.

Additionally, CHICI studies show that only 13 percent of Latinos hold a bachelor’s degree.

The goal of CHCI and those who participated in Keeping the Promise: Partnerships for Latino Education Success, is to help educate the next generation of Latino students before they enter the workforce.

Those active in Keeping the Promise—such as President Pérez, who is of Puerto Rican descent—are committed to examining, and improving on, the challenges facing young Latinos today when it comes to higher education.

The participants
Pérez participated in the day’s first panel: Educating Our Future Workforce and Growing Consumer Base, and BMCC student Anival Gonzalez—an ASAP student who currently takes classes at NYU—participated in the second panel: Young Latino Perspective.

Jose Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American journalist for Telemundo and a graduate of New College of Florida, moderated the Partnerships for Latino Education Success panel.

President Pérez’s co-panelists were: Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico; Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University; Sarita Brown, President, Excelencia in Education, and Lissette Nieves, Commissioner, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics Americans.

Pérez shares his story
As the panel discussed a variety of ways to help draw Latino students to colleges, and keep them enrolled, Pérez shared a personal story about his background.

“I grew up in Harlem and was getting my Regents exam graded when a high school counselor said to me, “Tony, I’ll give you a 65 if you don’t go to college. He told me to join the Marines and that I wasn’t college material,” recalled Pérez. “Instead, I went to Bronx Community College at night—not bad for a guy whose father and mother had a third and sixth grade education.”

Pérez said community colleges shouldn’t be “overlooked.” When Pierluisi said that many Latino college students work to support their families, and may want to consider enrolling at a community college that offers evening and weekend courses, Pérez agreed.

“You don’t have to put yourself in debt at a prestigious private college,” said Pérez.

BMCC was there for Anival
According to Pérez, at BMCC, 38 percent of students are Latino.

“Those needing remediation assistance are having difficulties,” he said. “Seventy percent of students are not ready for college work, and out of that 70 percent, 35 percent leave us within the first year. They’re coming in but we’re not keeping them.”

Pérez told the panel about the college’s Out in Two program, and how ASAP’s personalized student attention helps student retention, especially within the Latino community at BMCC.

Student panelist Anival Gonzalez officially graduates from BMCC this semester. He highly praised BMCC’s ASAP staff members who “encouraged me every step of the way.”

“I got my GED and just didn’t know where to go…I was so lost,” said Gonzalez, who enrolled at BMCC later in his life, supporting himself by working a variety of retail jobs. “I enjoyed my time at BMCC and found a support system there. And now I’m going to NYU on scholarship. BMCC prepared me socially and academically for a 4-year school.”

Gonzalez is the first in his family to graduate from college.

“We Latinos have a beautiful work ethic,” said Nieves. “However, a majority of Latinos don’t work nine to five jobs. Thus, Latino parents may struggle to find adequate daycare, which is one reason why these students leave college.”

Brown echoed her sentiments, saying, “The Latino community is committed to education—the number of Latinos in college is at an all-time high. Now the focus in on making sure they complete college.”

Education games eyed for future
Pérez discussed his visions for the future of BMCC with his fellow panelists.

“Latinos have closed the gap in one area—social networking, which is very popular. So, how do we use it in the classroom to help students? How can we introduce modules of education through game playing? Over 60 percent of our students are playing games, and students are interested in taking remediation through games,” he said.

Pérez is researching a variety of interactive, educational games that will appeal to BMCC students, which may help them improve their English, Math, and social skills.

“Games with a reward system appeal to students—we’re working on that at BMCC because we have to think outside the box,” said Pérez. “I’ve approached NYU and Barnes and Noble about creating games that appeal to college students.”

Panelist Noguera pointed out that Stanford University recently created interactive, educational games for students that have been popular on-campus.

Says Pérez, “It’s about creating something different and connecting to the students. Education is a hard ship to turn around, but there is new technology out there. We need to create programs that are able to bridge gaps. Students are learning in different ways today.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” are evolving. We use whichever term reflects the interviewee’s or organization’s preference. Click here for more information.