New Program Expands Services for Hispanic and Under-Resourced Waterbury Students

Camina Conmigo program aims to provide career preparation, academic support, engagement, and more

The UConn Waterbury campus.

(UConn Photo)

As the largest non-white population at UConn and Connecticut’s largest minority group, Hispanic/Latino students are vital to the success of the University’s mission and the state’s economic and cultural well-being.

Now, an initiative that helps students at UConn’s campuses in Stamford, Hartford, and Avery Point is being expanded with a new grant to support the success of Hispanic and under-resourced students at UConn Waterbury.

Camina Conmigo (Walk With Me) is funded with a new $2.8 million project grant from the U.S. Department of Education and started last fall at UConn Waterbury, where almost 30% of students identify as Hispanic/Latino.

“It has been such a privilege to be able to create and collaborate to build and launch this program while considering the specific needs of our students and campus. We are committed to narrowing the equity gap and providing our students with the holistic support that they need to be successful at UConn Waterbury,” says Nicole Ariyavatkul, UConn Waterbury’s director of student success, equity, and inclusion.

Camima Conmigo is part of UConn’s broader RISE initiative (Resilience, Inclusion, Success, Equity) that targets support to under-resourced populations at the Waterbury, Hartford, and Stamford campuses.

“We want every student to know, regardless of their background or challenges they’ve faced, UConn is a place where they can connect, succeed, and thrive. These programs create more resources to make that a greater reality,” says Tadarrayl Starke, UConn’s associate vice provost of the Institute for Student Success (ISS).

UConn aims to ensure that at least 76% of UConn Waterbury’s Camina Conmigo first-year students return in the following year; that 85% or more are in good academic standing; and that at least half graduate within six years.

It also aims for at least 69% of its participants to report positive personal financial wellness – meaning they are able to find, navigate, and receive appropriate aid – as measured on the SERU Survey (Student Experience in the Research University).

“I am thrilled to see Camina Conmigo bolster Waterbury’s commitment to Hispanic and under-resourced students, fostering an environment where every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential,” says Fumiko Hoeft, UConn Waterbury’s campus dean and chief administrative officer.

Camina Conmigo serves its participants in four key areas:

• Engagement and belonging: Creating Waterbury’s first Learning Community, La Comunidad Intelectual, modeled on communities at Storrs and Stamford; providing college success coaching and peer mentoring; offering cultural group and community service activities; and graduate school tours.

• Academic support: Training advisors in cultural competency; offering specialized First-Year Experience courses; and supporting peer tutoring, academic mentoring, supplemental instruction, and summer math preparation.

• Financial literacy and wellness: Providing financial aid counseling; financial literacy workshops; assisting students with remaining eligible for financial aid; workshops to help students and their families fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and other financial aid documents; assistance with completing work-study employment processes; and student stipends to promote engagement with research, academic conferences, Experiential Global Learning (study abroad), and other high-impact practices.

• Career preparation: Offering activities to help students explore majors and career pathways; holding seminars with alumni and other professionals; and organizing workshops to help students prepare for graduate school.

The University has bolstered services across its campuses over the past several decades to help Hispanic/Latino students, along with students who are under-resourced, to help break down barriers to a UConn education.

The nation’s Latino population grew by 23% over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Connecticut strongly outpaced that number with 50% growth between 2000 and 2012, with Hispanic/Latino residents comprising about 17% of the population.

UConn’s population of Hispanic/Latino students has also grown significantly: In 1990, about 3% of its undergraduates identified in that category, a number that had grown to 6% by 2012. Now, almost 18% of UConn’s undergraduates are of Hispanic/Latino descent, with that number expected to continue rising.

UConn Waterbury and UConn Stamford both are designed as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) under the U.S. Department of Education, which grants that designation to institutions whose student population is at least one-quarter Hispanic, and are members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

At UConn Stamford, about 34% of students are Hispanic/Latino, a number that has grown from about 15.5% in 2008. It is expected to continue to increase as diversity grows in the region, where more than half of students in Stamford Public Schools are now Hispanic/Latino.

In fact, the campus launched the La Comunidad Intelectual learning community last fall on its campus, similar to the one being organized at UConn Waterbury.

“It is already very popular as the students appreciate being able to connect with others and feel a sense of community and belonging. As a campus, we are committed to creating as many opportunities for student success as possible,” says Jennifer Orlikoff, UConn Stamford dean and chief administrative officer.

UConn Hartford’s population is around 20% Hispanic, so although it has not reached the threshold to become an official HSI, it is considered an emerging HSI and has many programs in place to serve those students.

“In the context of our near-majority Latino/Puerto Rican capital city, UConn Hartford has been working with community partners to provide resources for and support our increasingly diverse student body,” says Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, dean and chief administrative office of UConn Hartford who is also a professor of history and Latinx studies.