Bathed in the dusky haze of the afternoon sun, the smell of freshly mowed grass hovering as an undeniable harbinger of spring, the University of La Verne baseball and softball teams on April 8 don...
At the University of La Verne’s first Latino Educational Access and Development conference, students get a road map to higher education and a successful future.
The 500 or so attendees for the University of La Verne’s first Latino Educational Access and Development (LEAD) conference might have expected University president Devorah Lieberman to talk in terms of GPA or even ULV. But she offered those in the audience — mostly students — a new acronym she hopes will catch on.
“I have two daughters who send text messages, and I know all about ‘BFF’ and ‘LOL’ and even ‘LMAO,’ ” Lieberman said to her suddenly focused audience and her increasingly nervous PR staff. “But I want to give you a new one: ‘NGU.’ That means Never Give Up.”
That was the message carried across by all speakers Thursday and through two discussion panels in the first such conference at La Verne. The university and the attending dignitaries would help to provide the access, and then it would be up to the students in the near future to be persistent in demanding their education.
“In California, Hispanics compose the largest segment of students in both two-year and four-year colleges,” Lieberman said. “About two million enter college; but only four percent graduate. We need to change that. We need to move the needle to 10 percent, then 20 percent, all the way up to 100 percent.”
Lieberman was the first of several speakers at Thursday’s conference, which also included the Hon. David Figueroa Ortega, Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles; Assembly Member the Hon. Roger Hernandez, representing the 57th District; and University of La Verne Board of Trustees member Cecilia Martinez-Morris.
The University of La Verne is among the most culturally diverse institutions of higher learning in California and has the Hispanic Serving Institution designation. Still, Lieberman said the goal of the conference should reach well beyond the local scope.
“This gathering today is not about the University of La Verne,” Lieberman said. “What we’re talking about is success for our entire country. Here at La Verne, we have 8,500 students and 40 percent of them are Hispanic. We want to make sure that we have open access for this group.”
Figueroa Ortega praised the university for its organization of the event.
“This conference reflects the University of La Verne’s commitment to the education of the Latino population,” Figueroa Ortega said. “A better path to a brighter future lies in education and it is something that empowers a community, allowing it to grow and prosper.”
Hernandez, whose district encompasses many of the cities just west of La Verne, directed his comments to the students gathered, sharing some of his struggles growing up as a first-generation college student and his awakening to the impact of education.
“I saw the power of supporting students early in my career,” said Hernandez, who, prior to being elected to the Assembly, was a professor of government at Rio Hondo and Citrus community colleges. “This state and this country need you to be the best that you can be. There are so many tremendous resources here, and lots of people who want you to succeed.”
Just who those people willing to lend a hand are were covered in the second half of the morning conference in a panel discussion and an individual presentation about mentoring.
“All right, so I want to help you,” closing speaker Dr. Gabe Veas told the young students. “I want to treat you all like my little brothers and little sisters, give you all of this information, tell you how to go about it, give you more information on my website and I’m going to give you free stuff. Now, the question is: What are you going to do with it?”
Veas talked of growing up economically and educationally disadvantaged in Los Angeles, of walking past the University of Southern California and hoping he could someday attend such a school. He said he didn’t have a mentor, but has since devoted his work and his life to helping those, such as the students in the audience, to find one.
A short distance away, in the university’s Ann & Steve Morgan Auditorium, Sharon Cruz-McKinney and Wendy Carrillo got right to the heart of the matter in their session: “College: Making It Happen.” Cruz-McKinney is founder and director of the Master’s Academy at La Verne, which is designed to educate pre-high school teens and their parents about pursuing a college education. Carrillo is a personality on a local radio station.
At every turn was the same can-do message: Education is the answer, and higher education is within reach. Pursue the dream and ‘NGU.’
“College is accessible, it’s attainable,” Lieberman said. “I’m the 18thpresident of La Verne and the first female president in the history of this university. There were 17 before me who were all from Church of the Brethren, a Christian faith. So, you had Brethren, now Lieberman. Wow! You can be the first at anything you choose to be. Never give up.”