Laker Familia welcomes students to campus

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A special orientation program, now in its second year, welcomed incoming Latino students and their family members to Grand Valley August 23-25. 

Laker Familia, a three-day program on the Allendale Campus, was attended by more than 250 people, including 62 first-year students. 

Raul Ysasi, affiliate professor in the College of Education and co-chair of the planning committee, said the program is needed because the population of Latino students at Grand Valley continues to grow. 

"Data about Latino students tell us that some students don't finish college because of finances, academic readiness and differences in culture," said Ysasi. "Our goal is to address those challenges through Laker Familia. We want students to feel comfortable and welcomed before the semester starts."

The program included a kick-off reception, team-building workshops, sessions for parents and a faculty panel.

The idea for the program came from the Latino Student Initiative (LSI), a group of students and faculty and staff members who focus on Latino student success. 

Connie Dang, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and former chair of LSI, said the program provides support and services that are unique to the Latino population, such as bilingual representatives from various university offices who are available to answer questions directly. 

"LSI is focused on providing resources for students to finish college, which includes understanding barriers like homesickness, access to tutors and mentors and making connections with faculty," said Dang.

Dang said students who attend Laker Familia go into the semester having friends and remain connected throughout the year. Some students who attended the program last year served as mentors to new students this year, including Christopher Lopez, a sophomore from Saginaw who is majoring in biomedical sciences. 

"Laker Familia set up a support system for me and it turned out to be one of the best and most beneficial programs I could ever be involved in," said Lopez, who was also involved in the program planning. 

The Laker Familia planning committee is led by Ysasi, Allison Montaie, assistant director of the Women's Center, and Luis Lozano, assistant director of Student Employment and Financial Literacy. It is comprised of representatives from Financial Aid, Admissions, University Libraries, Housing, Registrar's Office and Student Life.