Laker Familia, other resources help student leader feel comfortable on campus

two women in a lab
Elizabeth Perez-Vazquez, left, is pictured in a photo from last year with Lilianne Nelson, faculty and acting program director of the Medical Laboratory Science program.
Image Credit: Mitch Ranger

When Elizabeth Perez-Vazquez graduates next year with a bachelor's degree in medical laboratory science, she will be the first in her family with a college degree.

Perez-Vazquez, from Kalamazoo, is one of nearly 1,300 Latino students at Grand Valley, a segment of the student population that grew 4 percent in 2020, compared to the previous year.

She said she chose to enroll at Grand Valley, in part, because of its resources and policies focused on helping Latino students, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients like herself, succeed. 

"I felt more comfortable at Grand Valley," Perez-Vazquez said. "When I searched for colleges and tried to find out about diversity on campus, if it wasn't readily available it was almost a red flag. Grand Valley's website was easy to navigate and find OMA and other services."

Deborah Santiago, Excelencia in Education co-founder and CEO, said all institutions must do better when serving Latino students. Excelencia in Education is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., focused on improving education outcomes for Latino college students. 

"By sustaining our commitment to identify, support and promote institutions that are choosing to intentionally serve Latino students and confront structural barriers, we are setting the pace for much needed institutional transformation,” Santiago said.

Grand Valley was one of nine institutions, and the only one in the Midwest, to receive the Seal of Excelencia from the organization in 2019. The designation means an institution offers positive momentum for Latino student progress and institutes leadership strategies focused on student success.

Perez-Vazquez said the Laker Familia orientation, a three-day program for Latino students, helped her meet other students and learn about resources. She later served as an orientation mentor and served on the advisory council and the executive board for theLatino Student Union.

"Laker Familia was such a great advantage. It was so nice to meet people who share the same culture, and be able to say hello to them when you saw them again on campus," she said.

2020 orientations for students who identify as Latino, Black, Asian and Native American will be hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs in August. Visit to learn more.