MC receives grant to boost enrollment of Latino students

MC receives grant to boost enrollment of Latino students

March 11, 2013
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

The Appalachian College Association (ACA) recently awarded Maryville College a grant that will boost the College’s efforts to reach out to the region’s Latino community.

“The Latino population in our region is growing daily, and Tennessee is one of the fastest growing regions for this population in the nation,” said Vandy Kemp, vice president and dean of students at Maryville College. “This seed money will help us create more ways to let these students know they are welcome at Maryville College. We want to help them achieve their dreams of a college education.”

Announced last year, the ACA’s Access, Retention and Completion (ARC) for Latino Student Success in Appalachia program was created with funding from the Kresge Foundation with oversight from Excelencia in Education. The program was developed in response to the changing demographic landscape of the region. Census data from 2010 showed that Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina all doubled their Hispanic population from 2000.

Maryville College was invited to develop an institutional team of four or five participants and attend the ARC Institute for Latino Student Success last September in Johnson City, Tenn. In addition to Kemp, the College’s team included Dr. Doug Sofer, associate professor of history; Richard Brand, director of financial aid; Preston Fields, director of community engagement; and José Pérez, a sophomore at the College who is of Mexican-American heritage.

Because the College participated, its team was eligible to apply for a grant worth up to $12,000 to design a specific initiative to assist access, retention or completion of Latino students.

Maryville College’s proposal – submitted soon after the Institute – was one of only eight in the ACA consortium of 36 private four-year liberal arts institutions selected for funding.

“Villamaría at Maryville College” is the name of the initiative that will build and strengthen relationships with the Latino community, starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.

“‘Villamaría’ is ‘Maryville’ translated into Spanish,” Sofer explained. “The name implies a community – a villa – within the larger campus community.”

College aims to increase its Latino population

The goal of the initiative is for Maryville College to be the higher education institution of choice for Latino students and their families in East Tennessee. Its mission statement reads: “We will listen, we will learn, and we will serve our region to become the institution of choice for our Latino community.”

Currently, the College has about 30 students enrolled who identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic. Sofer said the opportunity to enroll more students is there, considering the extraordinary growth in the Latino population in the College’s geographic area. Loudon County saw its Latino population increase 280 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Sevier County saw an increase of 442 percent.

According to Sofer, the College would like to increase by 25 percent both the number of applications from prospective Latino first-year students and the number of applications from prospective Latino transfer students in 2014.

In addition to marketing efforts targeted at prospective students and their families, Villamaría at Maryville College seeks to achieve its goals in two ways – first, by creating a new Community Research Center that facilitates research partnerships aimed at issues associated with the East Tennessee Latino community.

“The Centro will help to connect members of the Latino community with MC faculty, students and staff and will be aided by an advisory council that represents a diversity of East Tennessee Latino populations,” Sofer explained, adding that staff are beginning to reach out to organizations that include the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee, the YMCA of East Tennessee and the Diocese of Knoxville.

The second way Villamaría at Maryville College will reach out to the Latino community is through a “Latin American Foodways Celebration” scheduled for fall 2013. It will feature foods made by community members and local businesses specializing in Latin American cuisines. Connected to the event will be presentations by MC and outside speakers who will give short presentations on the historical, political, social, economic, biological and/or biochemical aspects of Latin American foods.

Sofer, whose expertise is in Latin American history, taught a January-Term course on Latin-American foods in 2012 and said much can be learned through the lens of food.

“This celebration will give us the opportunity to talk about the culture but in the context of history, science and sociology,” he said. “And it will help us reach people who would not be reached by, say, a lecture,” he explained.

While the mini-grant will provide funding for one year of programming, Sofer said the College is committed to continuing the initiatives of Villamaría beyond 2014.

Villamaría continues commitment to diversity

Sofer said Villamaría at Maryville College would continue the College’s commitment to diversity.

“Maryville College boasts a remarkable history, since its founding in 1819, of providing access to education to underrepresented groups,” he said. “Our ‘firsts’ in Tennessee include graduating the first African-American, the first Native American and the first female, all earning bachelor’s degrees early in the 19th century. A legacy of social justice and broad access has influenced the educational and social experience at Maryville College for almost two centuries.”

Students energized

Pérez, who came from Maryville College in 2011 following graduation from West Greene High School in Mosheim, Tenn., said the Villamaría initiative makes him “feel proud” to be an MC student.

“It’s outstanding to see all that has been accomplished in the past few months, and I really cannot wait to see what else this project does for both the College itself and the members in the community,” he said.

Attending the ARC Institute for Latino Student Success last September, he said he was inspired to create a Latino Student Alliance (LSA) organization on the MC campus that would reach out to MC students of Hispanic descent and students who are
interested in Latin American culture.

Going forward, Pérez hopes that LSA will serve as a support system to Latino students and give the members a sense of family during their four years at MC.

“As of now we have had three successful meetings, and we are energized to keep this organization rolling for many more years and be the voice of the Latino population on campus,” Pérez added.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.