With only 3.51 percent of the student population of Ohio State’s Columbus campus identifying as Latino as of last fall, the Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research, or LASER, is trying to increase the number of Latino students by hosting the fourth annual Latino Role Models Day on Wednesday.
The eight-hour event is geared toward Latino high school students and is also open to the public. These students will mostly be first-generation Latino students, and for many, it will be their first time on a college campus, said Elena Costello, the project manager for LASER.
LASER is expecting more than 170 students to attend, Costello said.
Costello said the event brings in successful Latino role models from the professional world, such as people in medicine, law, nonprofits and for-profits.
The keynote speaker is Paloma Martinez-Cruz, an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
Martinez-Cruz said she plans to share aspects of her personal story during her speech.
“It’s basically my own intellectual autobiography (about) the tools I inherited and what I did with them in order to invent something different and forge my own path,” she said.
In addition to being an accomplished scholar, she also played in a punk band while she was in Chicago for seven years, before coming to OSU about two years ago. Now in Columbus, she said she is “learning the grammar of how this space feels to (her) because music is geography.”
Her musicianship will be mentioned in her keynote speech— which will be at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday — but Martinez-Cruz said she still plans to talk about her academic life to inspire the audience.
Martinez-Cruz served as a role model in last year’s event, where she was able to talk to students in small groups and answer questions.
“If a role model does the right job, you’re OK being just like you. It’s not about being like me, it’s like, ‘Go be like you!’” she said. “I think that’s the general message any role model is really concerned about.”
Martinez-Cruz said she was approached to be this year’s keynote speaker by Frederick Aldama, the founder and director of LASER and a distinguished professor in the Department of English and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“You want to make sure to put someone up there who is dynamic and who can really speak to a younger crowd but not dumb down what they’re saying,” Aldama said. “She’s an incredible scholar, but she’s also an incredibly dynamic persona as a performer.”
Aldama came up with the idea of Latino Role Models Day with Aida Sabo, who now serves as the vice president of Diversity/Inclusion Center of Excellence at Cardinal Health, a healthcare services provider.
Aldama and Sabo wanted to have an event to remind Latino high-school students that there are people who welcome them to any community, despite how difficult it might seem.
“Many Latino students in the Columbus area are either told that Columbus (and) OSU is not for them directly by often sometimes teachers and other people, or they just have this sense that a big, important university like the Ohio State University is not for them,” Aldama said.
A panel featuring undergraduate Latino students will start at 1 p.m. This aspect of the event allows high-school students to ask questions of the college students, said Gabriel Quiñones-Betancourt, a fourth-year in biology and the moderator for the panel.
“For the panel, I hope that they can ask questions and relate to the (panelists) because we’re all pretty much the same age. I just hope they (the high school students) can see people like them … that are similarly goal-oriented and give them the vision that it’s possible,” Quiñones-Betancourt said.
The event is supported by the Multicultural Center, which will work in conjunction with LASER to present awards based on academic achievement, and the College of Dentistry, which “has probably been the most active college in terms of recognizing the importance of Latinos on campus,” Costello said. She said many of the students serving as role models at the event are from the college, and that there are many Latino students enrolled in the dentistry program.
Cardinal Health is also a big supporter of the event, and it will pay for the buses that will bring the high-school students to campus, Aldama said.
“It’s an important event because I think it’s one of the only times on campus where you have that huge of a Latino presence of all ages. It’s a very unique time for the university and I think that the university should pay more attention to it,” said Neil Ramirez, a second-year in mechanical engineering and a member of the undergraduate panel.
Latino Role Models Day will take place from 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr. Lounge at Hale Hall.