The Celebración Latinoamericano last Tuesday night culminated a year of Utah Valley University’s Latino Initiative, which actively engages the community to increase awareness among Latino students and parents of the opportunities available for a college education.

UVU Latino Initiative, with partners like Utah Community Credit Union and local school districts, works with students, prospective students and their parents to show Latino students they can succeed.

UVU Latino students, through the Latinos Unidos (United Latinos) Mentoring Program, develop relationships with local elementary, middle and high school students. Mentors show Latino students that they “come from the same background and … are doing it, so you can too,” according to Yazmin Montero, the program coordinator.

UVU students work with individual students and classrooms to provide tutoring in core subjects and to show students that they can be proud of their heritage and attend college. Latinos Unidos mentors guide students from grades six and eight on tours of UVU campus to help them visualize college in their future.

The Latino Youth Leadership in Action Conference taught about 340 Latino students from around the state to be minority leaders among the majority. Latino UVU students and Latino business professionals showed the high school students how they were able to meet with success. The students then wrote grant proposals for projects to do in their own schools and communities. UCCU donated $1750 to fund the three best proposals.

Many prospective Latino students stay away from college or drop out because of difficulties paying tuition and other expenses. The Latino Education Scholarship Fund encourages the community to invest in the future of the Latino population by providing scholarships for Latino students to attend college.

At the Celebracion Latinoamericano, 41 scholarships totaling $42,000 were awarded to continuing and new UVU students. The Latino Initiative also makes Latino students and their parents aware of the scholarships and financial aid available to help pay for tuition, fees and living expenses.

Veronica Lopez, a UVU graduate in Broadcast Journalism, who now works for Channel 14-KJZZ in Salt Lake City, said the support of her parents was key to her success in college.

Not all students receive the same support as Lopez has been given. Some Latino parents may not understand the importance of a college education or may pressure their children to go to work out of high school in order to help support the family. Parents may also be undocumented and afraid that their children are not allowed to attend college or may desire college educations for their children but lack the resources.

The Latino Initiative works directly with parents to teach the importance of a college education, to dispel fears and to show parents how financial aid can allow their child to succeed in college.