13:16 PM

Grant Helps PASO Boost Outreach Amid COVID-19

By Brian Hiro

The coronavirus pandemic has spared few victims as it has rampaged across the United States over the past 10 months, but it has had a particularly deleterious impact on the Latinx community.

According to a prominent report by the American Medical Association, COVID-19 cases affect Latinx individuals at nearly double the overall national rate, and Latinx people are overrepresented in some state mortality rates.

As the director of Pathways to Academic Success and Opportunities (PASO), a Latinx-centered program at Cal State San Marcos, Minerva Gonzalez is well aware of such troubling statistics. So when she had a chance to do her part to help this vulnerable population, she didn’t hesitate.

Last fall, Gonzalez applied for and received an emergency grant from The San Diego Foundation as part of its COVID-19 community response fund. The $40,000 grant covers six months, from last November through this April, and is designed to help PASO extend its outreach to Latinx high school students and their families who have seen the challenge of attaining higher education become exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We knew that our disenfranchised communities were not getting the resources they needed in order to come to college, or even know about the process of coming to college,” Gonzalez said. “This is a short-term goal, but it has long-term effects if we educate the parents because the sisters, the brothers, the family members who might come to college at least will have an understanding of our higher education system. That’s why it was important to reach out and do this.”

PASO is a Title V grant from the U.S. Department of Education that was funded starting in 2015, partly as a result of CSUSM being designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution by achieving a Latinx enrollment of 25%. The program aims to expand educational opportunities and improve the academic attainment of Latinx students through innovative services, culturally relevant curriculum and meaningful co-curricular offerings.

PASO normally provides a host of in-person services to both current and prospective students, but that’s not possible right now because of COVID-19. What’s more, many Latinx students are lacking the typical level of engagement with their high school teachers and counselors, leaving them further isolated and disconnected from the process of researching and applying to colleges.

That’s where the grant from The San Diego Foundation comes in. During the first phase last fall, PASO identified strategies to partner with community organizations to provide parental workshops on the admission and financial aid process.

“We found out with the presentations we did in November that the parents knew very little about applications and financial aid, about the resources available to students,” Gonzalez said. “We set up a one-hour meeting, and they were there for an hour and 45 minutes, still asking questions. So that means we have to do a lot more.”

That work will begin in earnest in the second phase of the grant over the next couple of months. PASO has formed a task force to handle intensive outreach to the more than 6,000 self-identified Latinx students who have been admitted to CSUSM for fall 2021, and their families. There will be parent workshops in Spanish and student workshops that will cover all aspects of the transition from high school to college – what they can expect, what they have to do and the available resources to be better prepared.

The whole initiative is a collaborative effort that involves campus and outside partners. The former group includes the College Assistance Migrant Program, the Educational Opportunity Program, the Latin@ Center, the DREAMer Resource Office, and the offices of Financial Aid & Scholarships and Recruitment & Outreach. Among the external groups are the San Diego Migrant Education program, the Mano a Mano Foundation, Girls Inc. of San Diego County and the Boys & Girls Club of San Marcos.

Attached to the grant are tangible goals that include increasing the number of Latinx students who apply to CSUSM by 5% and providing more intensive outreach and one-to-one guidance to 200 families. Gonzalez isn’t worried about the second objective, since close to 300 people are scheduled to attend a Migrant Education program parent conference in March alone.

“We’re going to meet our numbers, no question about it,” Gonzalez said.

She’s proud of the work that PASO is doing, with the support of The San Diego Foundation, to boost the community that the program serves during this global crisis.

“I think our goal has always been: What foundational changes can we make, what long-lasting institutional processes can we look at that will address the needs of this population?” she said. “It’s my belief that what we’re doing here will have a long-lasting effect for what we do here at the university. So it’s a big-picture vision as well as an immediate need.”

Media Contact

Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist

bhiro@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7306