When she received a text message from the 21st Century Scholars Program about the Indiana University booth at the 2018 Indiana Latino Expo, Carmen Samaniego-Puga knew she would be in attendance. Samaniego-Puga’s son is a 21st Century Scholar, and she wanted to make sure that he was still on track to complete the program. Doing so at the IU booth was not only a chance for her son to get more information about his dream school, then; it was also a chance for Samaniego-Puga to make sure he could access the educational opportunities that would pave the way to a more successful future.
“[It will be] better for his future, I think. For him not to be working hard like I did. For him to be a professional in what he loves to do,” Samaniego-Puga said.
Samaniego-Puga and her son were just one of the families who visited the Indiana University booth at the 2018 Indiana Latino Expo. Throughout the afternoon of Oct. 13, families made their way through the booth at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, carrying plates of tamales from nearby vendors while performers in the expo’s talent show sang in Spanish over the hall’s loudspeakers. At times, the line for the booth stretched around the perimeter and through the hall, as 21st Century Scholars and their families waited to complete program requirements to ensure that they were on track to attend college.
Many of the families in attendance visited as part of Indiana University’s 21st Century Scholars Day. Established by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in 1990, the 21st Century Scholars Program offers low-income and first-generation students from Indiana a path towards an affordable college education. As part of the program, Scholars complete activities throughout high school, which inform them about the academic, financial, and social resources needed to succeed in college. Once they complete the program, students are eligible for a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to any public Indiana university.
The Indiana University booth at the Indiana Latino Expo acted as a prime resource for Scholars looking to make this goal a reality. By visiting the booth, Scholars could complete various program requirements by speaking with IU representatives, taking a virtual campus tour, or learning about more about their intended field of study. The Indiana Commission for Higher Education also maintained a table at the booth, where prospective Scholars could sign up and current Scholars could ask questions or check their status online. Elsewhere, students could apply to Indiana University with an application fee waiver exclusive to the expo. In sum, these initiatives provided 21st Century Scholars and their families a one-stop shop to chart their path towards college.
One such student was Daniel Alonso, a high school sophomore and 21st Century Scholar at North Central High School. An aspiring manager of a construction company, Alonso hoped that a college education would help prepare him for personal career success, regardless of the circumstances he might face later in life.
“You can find a job straight out of high school, but it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be successful forever. But going to college will make sure you can be successful in the long run,” Alonso said.
As the afternoon wound down, it was clear that attendance at the Indiana University booth during Indiana Latino Expo was higher than any year before. Over 200 21st Century Scholars stopped by the booth, in addition to the students and families not affiliated with the program who had the opportunity to learn more about IU. Mariela Gonzalez, a senior at Arsenal Technical High School, was one such student. An aspiring first-generation college student, Gonzalez recognized that applying to IU would mean more than her personal and career success alone.
“I’m the oldest, so I have to set a role model for my sisters. I want my sisters to go to college, so that’s really important for my family,” Gonzalez said.
Lillian Casillas-Origel, the director of the Latino Cultural Center (La Casa) at IU Bloominton and a volunteer at the booth, hoped that the experience would show students that IU is a diverse and welcoming environment where they can succeed, no matter the hardships they might face.
“It’s important that they see that we get it, we know it, and you’re not the only one. We are prepared for whatever scenario or whatever question you might have,” Casillas-Origel said.