Dedicated to transforming Hispanic Serving Institutions and transforming a campus environment that builds a sense of belonging from enrollment to graduation.
Future educator Dori Trujillo is studying at Fresno State, working her way toward earning a multiple subject teaching credential. After graduating in the summer of 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, Trujillo knew her next step was to become an educator. What she didn’t know was that it would lead her to becoming a project assistant with Enseñamos en el Valle Central.
Enseñamos en el Valle Central is an innovative collaboration between Fresno State, Fresno City College and Reedley College that focuses on strengthening pathways for underrepresented future educators.
“With Enseñamos, I learned to appreciate my bilingualism as the beautiful asset it is,” said Trujillo.
Enseñamos responds to the many intricate challenges higher education poses, such as connecting with faculty and peers, obtaining academic counseling and mentoring support, interpreting degree plans and meeting graduation requirements.
“Enseñamos en el Valle Central places a strong emphasis on fostering a sense of belonging for students,” said Dr. Patricia D. López, director of the Enseñamos initiative and assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Fresno State.
“We are intentional about going above mere enrollment of Latinx students and work hard to transform and influence how the institution reflects the students we serve. Our programmatic events are contributing fundamentally to a campus culture that affirms the rich history and cultural contributions of Latinx communities in the Central Valley,” said Lopez.
Fresno State has seen a drastic increase in incoming first-generation students of Hispanic ethnicity, particularly in the past couple years. In 2016, 52.6% of the student body was composed of incoming Hispanic students. That increased to 59.4% in 2020, representing well over half of the campus population. Some colleges, such as the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, saw an even greater increase, catapulting from 59.2% in 2016 to 70.8% in 2020.
One of the many factors that have contributed to the increase in Hispanic students pursuing higher education in the Kremen School is the $3.75 million Title V grant, Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, which created the foundation for the Enseñamos initiative to launch in 2018. Over the past four years, the initiative has flourished and taken shape, promoting the success of future Latinx teachers.
Nearly 65% of Fresno State students are the first generation in their families to earn a college degree, which can change the future trajectory of their lives.
“Many first-generation students are left estranged by higher education through often tedious and confusing processes and a lack of connection to faculty and courses that are detached from their communities and experiences,” said López. “These institutional roadblocks leave students feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, at times squeezing them out of the system altogether.”
Programs such as Enseñamos en el Valle Central respond to these ongoing patterns by focusing on institutional barriers while building up first-generation students to navigate higher education, allowing them to begin their educational journey with peace of mind.
“I have felt I can count on my colleagues as family,” said Trujillo. “I’ve found the best mentorship in our director, Dr. López. The way she advocates for students like me inspires me to build the same environment in my future classroom.”
Adding to the need for more support to Latinx students is a growing demand to increase the number of Latinx teachers, particularly those who can teach in bilingual classrooms. Minority students in higher education at times feel out of place or have experienced alienation among their peers. Having professors who are culturally affirming, approachable and who represent the diverse Latinx culture, allow students to feel more at ease and less isolated in the classroom. They are more likely to engage and ask for assistance if they feel seen and are given a warm and inviting learning environment.
Through collaboration the Enseñamos initiative begins working with students at the high school and community college level — providing counseling guidance and strengthening transfer pathways into Fresno State, structuring a smooth transition through higher education and providing continuous support to enter teaching credential programs.
López has spent the past four years collaborating with students, staff, faculty and community members, watching her vision grow as the program continues expanding.
Enseñamos en el Valle Central has gained traction alongside growing recognition of minority-serving institutions and the critical role they play in serving diverse students of color who are increasingly the face of higher education.
This includes a recent proclamation by President Joseph R. Biden declaring Sept. 12 through 18 as National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week:
“I call on public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that acknowledge the many ways these institutions and their graduates contribute to our country.”
Enseñamos en el Valle Central continues to exemplify the goal of expanding educational opportunities and improving academic and career attainment among Latinx students. This fall they are kicking off a fall Plática and Taller series that centers art, culture, identity and healing, as a way to inspire dialogue among diverse communities and thoughtfully consider what it means to serve Central Valley communities. Events are open to all and can be found on their website along with an inventory of past events such as their highly successful anti-racism series during the 2019-20 academic year.
While many of these events transpire during specific windows of time, Enseñamos understands that students have extremely busy schedules with class conflicts so to guarantee equal access for all participants, they record each event and post details to their website which can be found at this link here.
(Written by Audra Burwell, a creative writing student, and assistant professor Patricia D. López)