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Breaking Barriers

Six NC State students — and one industrious staff member — lead a new program that expands access to education for Latino communities.

Female NC State student providing information to another female at a desk
NC State student Yesi Pineda Reyes meets with a client at the Ventanilla de Orientacion Educativa — or Window to Education — at the Mexican Consulate of Raleigh.

From selecting a preschool to applying for college, navigating the U.S. education system can be challenging. Imagine trying to do it if you’re brand new to the country or don’t speak English.

Enter the Ventanilla de Orientacion Educativa — or Window to Education — at the Mexican Consulate of Raleigh. Operated by NC State in partnership with the consulate, the VOE provides Latino communities in North and South Carolina with critical information about the education system and guidance on how to be successful.

“In Mexico it’s very common to go to private primary school because it’s affordable,” says Marcela Torres-Cervantes, assistant director of community outreach and engagement with NC State’s Department of Multicultural Student Affairs. “And their colleges operate much like the community college system we have here. So this idea of paying massive amounts of tuition, moving away from home, living in dorm rooms, all that stuff is foreign to these families.

“We try to make it less scary,” she says. “There are a lot of barriers, many created unintentionally, that these families need assistance getting around. We just try to create access.”

Torres-Cervantes coordinates a team of NC State students who staff the VOE every weekday, meeting with families and providing resources. Since it opened in March 2018, the VOE has served more than 1,000 people.

Support from the Provost’s Professional Experience Program enabled the VOE to triple its staff in August from two to six students.

Three women standing in front of the Mexican Consulate of Raleigh
Marcela Torres-Cervantes (center) with NC State’s Department of Multicultural Student Affairs coordinates a team of students who work at the VOE, including Genesis Torres (left) and Yesi Pineda Reyes (right).

“Our students are phenomenal and highly motivated to work with people from backgrounds similar to their own,” Torres-Cervantes says. “Some of them are majoring in social work or psychology, but others are STEM and engineering majors. They all have a strong vested interest in seeing this community grow.”

The students provide resources for everything from entering preschool lotteries to applying for college scholarships. They also help people pursue continuing education opportunities and avoid scams and other landmines.

Torres-Cervantes and her student team often work outside the VOE office, developing and teaching workshops and participating in local events geared toward Latino families.

In December, they offered a conference for students and families of first-generation Spanish-speaking backgrounds. The goal was to remove any myth and confusion from the college application process.

More events like these are on the horizon for the VOE, Torres-Cervantes says, and partnerships will be key going forward.

“We’re working toward building more strategic partnerships with other universities, colleges and educational institutions,” she says. “We’re also working to more strategically share the initiatives of our partners who have provided academic support and services to the Latinx community.

“It’s definitely been a learning year,” Torres-Cervantes says. “But now we’re able to create and implement more original programming and ideas in addition to sharing resources that already exist. It’s really exciting.”

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