Centro Hispano Marks 10 Years on UNCW Campus

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

UNCW senior Mindy Rodriguez takes great pride in being a first-generation college student. In addition to earning a degree, she wants to be a role model for her younger brothers and make her parents proud.

“I want to be the first in my family to obtain a bachelor’s degree, not just the first to attend college. The diploma will serve as a catalyst for generations to come,” she said.

A native of Jacksonville, N.C., Rodriguez is thankful to UNCW for allowing her the opportunity to pursue her dreams and make a difference for her family. She is particularly thankful for UNCW’s Centro Hispano, where she is able to connect with other first-generation college students and find support as she pursues a degree in chemistry with a minor in mathematics.

Connection and support were key to the vison for Centro Hispano when it was founded 10 years ago as UNCW’s Hispanic/Latino academic, cultural and community resource. At the time, about 285 students (2.4 percent) of UNCW’s students were Hispanic.

“The idea for Centro Hispano emerged from discussions with then-Chancellor James Leutze and Dr. Denis Carter, our first campus diversity officer,” said UNCW psychology professor Antonio Puente, the center’s founding director. “Whereas it was clear that our university was committed to expanding our horizons with minority students, there was an increasing shift in the demographics of North Carolina with an unprecedented growth of 250 percent of Hispanics."

Today, Centro Hispano is part of the university’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI).

In addition to supporting the increase of Hispanic enrollment, the center nurtures students through mentoring, leadership, academic and career support. Great emphasis is also placed in supporting the recruitment and the retention of students who are the first in their families to attend college, such as Rodriguez. The center recently worked with the UNCW Office of Admissions to conduct the first bilingual (Spanish) campus tour on Oct. 16, 2015.

Edelmira Segovia, Centro Hispano’s current director, estimates UNCW’s present Hispanic enrollment at 1,000 students. When she was a student at UNCW, there was no Centro Hispano. “I only knew a couple of other Hispanics,” she said. “It has been good to see that change.”

Segovia was the first female Latino to receive a doctorate degree from the Watson College of Education. She explains Hispanics are of all different races, and the human eye can’t always discern a person’s nationality. She is of Peruvian descent, Puente is Cuban, while Rodriguez is Puerto Rican.

No matter a person’s nationality, Segovia says what keeps the center strong “is the true sense of family that we have here at UNCW. In Hispanic culture, family is everything. Parents feel safe knowing that their culture is going to be continued, and the sense of family is going to continue here.”

UNCW was recently recognized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics with two distinctions. Centro Hispano was designated a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education for its support of Latino educational attainment and excellence. Additionally, the White House included UNCW among 150 public and private institutions with a Commitment to Action to make meaningful and quantifiable contributions to expand and support the educational outcomes and opportunities for the Latino community.

“As we celebrate our first decade of existence, we have become a beacon not only for the UNC system of higher education but the rest of our nation as evidenced by the awards received last week from President Obama,” said Puente.

-- Caroline Cropp