Paula Plasencia, the community and cultural advisor at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, asked a room full of Latino students how many planned to attend college.
Every hand was raised.
Then she asked, “How many of you think it’s too hard or that you couldn’t do it?”
Not one hand was raised.
And that, in essence, explains the purpose of the Latino College Exposition, which was hosted this year by Simpson College. An estimated 125 Des Moines-area students spent the day on campus, learning what college life is like.
“I can definitely see myself at college,” said Daisy Solorzano, 18, a senior at East High School in Des Moines. “I feel a step closer.”
For Simpson, hosting the event provided a great opportunity to tell the students why they would succeed here.
They heard from Antonio Reyes, a senior English major at Simpson and a 2009 graduate from North High School.
“The big thing that I am grateful about Simpson for is having professors who are willing to help me see all the opportunities after graduation, and receiving their honest suggestions as to how I can reach those opportunities and make my dreams more attainable,” he said.
Reyes also said the Simpson environment should appeal to Latino students.
“Another amazing quality that Simpson has, which is very attractive to Latinos, is this sense of community,” he said.
The Latino College Exposition began 18 years ago when Plasencia and other Latino education leaders discussed ways of lowering the student dropout rate and encouraging Latino high school students to go to college.
“We realized you can’t encourage someone to go if they’ve never seen it and they don’t know what it’s about,” she said.
So the idea was to bring students to a college campus, but also let them sit in on an actual class or listen as a professor conducts a mock class.
“With that, then they could say, ‘Yeah, I can handle this,’ or, ‘If I want to be there, I really need to step it up.’”
Plasencia praised Simpson’s faculty for welcoming the Latino students into their classrooms. The students could choose from among 20 different academic areas to explore.
In the early years, she said, organizers had to recruit Latino students to attend. Now the interest is so high that standards have been established, such as grade-point average and attendance, in order for students to be invited.
“It’s growing to the point that we have a selection process,” she said.
Aldo Plascenia (no relation to Paula), is a 17-year-old senior at East High School who sat in on a criminal justice class.
“I liked it,” he said. “Simpson is a good school, and I’ve heard a lot of good things. It’s been a very good experience.
“I’ve always wanted to go to college. My parents didn’t have the opportunity. I do, so I want to take advantage of it.”
Paula Plasencia said the event would be a success, “if these students can leave here and say, ‘Yes, I can be in college, and that’s where I want to be.’”