UC Berkeley students mentor high school students from immigrant families

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A new mentorship program designed by the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco is pairing high school students from immigrant families to Bay Area university student mentors, including some from UC Berkeley.  

The program, titled Ventanilla de Oportunidades Educativas, or VOE, also known as the Educational Opportunities Booth, was originally an on-site booth located at the Mexican Consulate that provided information on educational resources. In collaboration with UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Unified School District’s Migrant Education Program, the consulate expanded to include a mentorship program for high school students of immigrant families, advised by students from UC Berkeley and SFSU.

“One of the main barriers that students from immigrant families face on their way to college: that is, the lack of information, advice and personalized support to navigate the complexities of the education system of the United States,” the consulate office said in a statement.

Lupe Gallegos-Diaz, Director of Berkeley’s Chicanx, Latinx Student Development, who’s been involved with VOE since it was established in 2012, worked with the consulate office to begin the program and recruit mentors with similar backgrounds from UC Berkeley. Mentors assist high school students and their families with the process of applying to universities, helping students with everything from applying for financial aid to writing essays.

“Not many of (the mentees) have the cultural capital around education,” Gallegos-Diaz said. “Maybe they’re the first generation to go to college. … If their parents didn’t go through the educational system in the U.S., how are they supposed to know?”

Michael Saucedo, a UC Berkeley senior double majoring in business and social welfare, said one of the biggest challenges he faced as a first-generation student was an “information gap.”

“I didn’t know anything about applying to fancy scholarships,” Saucedo said. “(FAFSA)’s really challenging to do it on your own, it’s definitely helpful to have someone help you walk through the process.”

According to Cesar Zulaica, Consul for Education Affairs, the VOE booth previously reached an older demographic. But with the mentorship program, made up of college students, the younger demographic can interact with a familiar age group.

Jose Chitala, a first-generation college student at UC Berkeley participating in the VOE Fall 2017 mentorship program, said he identifies with the struggle of understanding the financial aid process. During the application process, Chitala said, there were many moments where he didn’t know how to navigate the financial aid system.

“I didn’t want to consult with my parents about it because I did not want to stress them out,” Chitala said. “I was enduring that stress.”

Now, as a junior majoring in political science, Chitala looks forward to assisting mentees in the upcoming program.

“I am excited because having gone through the process of applying to college and financial aid, I feel very confident,” Chitala said.

Contact Adrianna Buenviaje at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adriannaDC.