Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Alexa Lagunas - Blueprint for Action

Latinas Unidas has prioritized making space for Latinx students on campus and creating opportunities for its members to bond and engage in discussion about events and topics related to the Latinx community. Although the pandemic has brought on a lot of new challenges for Latinas Unidas, it has given us the opportunity to think retrospectively about our organization and how it has been run. In the past, Latinas Unidas has focused on the community exclusively on campus. Very rarely did we engage with the Latinx community outside of Harvard, or think of ways in which we can make a positive impact on the community. As a result, this research project is focused on how we can change that through community engagement with local high school students in the Boston area through mentorship.

Research Question
What are the main challenges that Latinx high school students face when applying to colleges, and how can current Latinx college students help them overcome these obstacles?

I decided to revolve my research project around this question because the information I would get from researching this question could be helpful in shaping an effective high school mentorship program by Latinas Unidas.

Research Design

I interviewed 6 high school counselors and college advisors for my project from across 3 different high school: Charlestown High School, Newton North, and Excel High School. I opened our discussion by asking about their roles at their high schools, how they support their students, commone issues or obstacles they see their Latinx students face, and any improvements they felt that could be made in their high school.

After conducting my interviews, I set up a focus group to discuss my findings with Latinas Unidas board members and open up a conversation about what we would like this mentorship program to looks like, as well as how to address common themes I saw being brought up by counselors. 

Below, I have included a summary of the main conversation that I had with the counselors I spoke with as well as the topics discussed in the focus group with Latinas Unidas. 





Conclusion and Future Action
My discussions with the 6 high school advisors and college counselors showed me that a lot of challenges that students currently face when applying to college  are institutional issues, such as lack of financial aid, low counselor to student ratio, lack of college-going culture, etc. While Latinas Unidas may not be able to fix these issues at an institutional level, there are a few things we can implement in our  mentorship program that can address the issues that were brought up in interviews while also integrating features that Latinas Unidas members discussed during the focus group. 

College Shadow Day
The main aspect of our mentorship program will be pairing Latinx high school juniors with current members of Latinas Unidas. The pairings will take academic interests, background, extracurriculars, and hobbies into account in order to ensure that students will have common interests. The students would be paired in the Spring** of the junior year, when they are just beginning to think more seriously about their post-high school plans, the weather becomes much better to stroll through campus, and we had time to further discuss details of the program. 

A common issue that counselors identified in our discussion about their roles is the low counselor to student ratio. Counselors often take on many roles and find it difficult to provide as much support as they can to every individual student. Many students can end up feeling lost and confused about the application process, what college is like, and if it is an option for them. Through the shadow program, high school students are provided with informal college mentors that act as an additional resource. 

**This is a tentative schedule as we keep a close eye on Harvard COVID restrictions and vaccine distribution in Massachussetts

Slack or Discord Chats
Because the shadow program is a day-long event, we want to find ways to maintain mentor-mentee relationships and have students in the program build comraderie. This would be done best with an online chat forum, like Slack or Discord, where there is the ability to have general chats in addition to subgroups, like "essay advice", "interviews", etc. 

While all the high schools I spoke with have some kind of college informational sessions and workshops, these are usually held a couple of times a year and students may not always know what questions to ask. An informal chat could allow students to ask questions or give advice whenever it is convenient for them or whenever their questions come up. 

College Workshops and Panels
In our focus group, Latinas Unidas discussed what other aspects in addition to the the shadow day would be helpful for high school students interested in attending Harvard or college in general. Many high schools I spoke with said they often hold informational sessions and workshops for their students about financial aid and technical aspects of the application process. We felt that Latinas Unidas could provide additional support to Latinx high school students interested in attending college by organizing student panels talking about our unique Latinx experiences on campus. 


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