Marking a Milestone: The University of Houston's Center for Mexican American Studies Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary This Year

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Born 40 years ago after a hard-fought battle between the University of Houston's (UH) administration and the Mexican American Youth Organization in 1972, the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at UH has grown exponentially while carrying out the mission of its founders. "They wanted to see a center that had some strong connection to the community and actually was involved in trying to increase the educational level of the number of Mexican Americans that [will earn] a college degree," says Dr. Tatcho Mindiola, director of CMAS since 1980 and an associate professor of sociology. "When I took over, that ideology was sort of in the air."

In me 32 years since assuming his post, Mindiola has seen the center's staff multiply from one part-time front office attendant to half a dozen, its budget surge to more than $2 million, a visiting scholars program take off, a graduate fellowship program attract top talent, and most importantly, the number of underserved students at UH jump. When Mindiola started at the University of Houston in 1972, the Latino population at the school was about 2 percent, he estimates. Now, UH is classified as a Hispanic-Serving Institution because more than 25 percent of its full-time undergraduate population is Hispanic. Part of this boost is due in part to CMAS' steadfast commitment to recruiting Latino students through its Academic Achievers Program and College Career Days.

"Through its scholarship program and its counseling and mentoring activities, CMAS focuses more specifically on the success of Hispanic students--many of whom are first generation in college--through activities that create and maintain a supportive environment. CMAS also actively engages in outreach activities that connect the university to the community, especially in its work with high school students;' says Dr. John Roberts, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Multi-faceted support

Started in 1986 as the Hispanic Family College Project, the Academic Achievers Program is germane to the center's mission of producing more Mexican-American college grads as it works with students from a local high school and college freshmen to keep students on track. With a 72 percent graduation rate, the program brings a lot of attention to the center.

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"I firmly believe that the key is the specialized attention that is given to every student in the program," says Rebeca Trevino, the program's director. "We make sure that we get to know our students well and that we can be of support to each one in any kind of problem or situation that they may have during their college life."

Participants receive a $12,500 per year scholarship, but must be enrolled full time and keep a grade point average of at least a 2.7. Mandatory study hall and tutoring are also part of the plan, along with study skills workshops and other required meetings. College Career Days--at which about 1,000 students from local high schools come to campus to learn about the importance of higher education, get trained on financial aid and fill out an application--have also been key in attracting more Latino students to campus. "Having these services and also knowing that they have a support program that they can count [on] makes the difference for the majority of them," says Trevino.

The need is so great, says Mindiola, that ethnic studies centers across the country need to make recruiting and retaining minority students a priority. …