MANHATTAN — A Kansas State University bilingual and bicultural education program has received national recognition for its success in supporting Latino students as they earn higher education degrees.
The university’s Bilingual/Bicultural Education Students Interacting to Obtain Success, or BESITOS, scholarship program has been recognized as a 2012 Example of Excelencia finalist at the baccalaureate level.
Socorro Herrera, executive director of the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy, or CIMA, accepted the award on behalf of the program at an awards ceremony, called the Celebracion de Excelencia, on Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.
“It’s exciting that our students in the program are being recognized for their work helping the younger students throughout Kansas,” said Herrera, also a professor of elementary education.
The Examples of Excelencia awards are a data-driven initiative to honor programs that improve achievement for Latino students in higher education. Examples of Excelencia is part of Excelencia in Education, a national nonprofit organization with a mission to accelerate Latino student success in higher education by applying knowledge to public policy and institutional practice.
Each year, the organization honors a program at the associate, baccalaureate and graduate levels. The university’s program was chosen as the finalist among 150 schools that applied at the baccalaureate level.
The university’s program is a project of the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy Center, which offers a broad array of undergraduate and graduate programs of study in English as a second language. The goal of the Bilingual/Bicultural Education Students Interacting to Obtain Success program is to recruit, prepare and mentor secondary students and paraprofessionals for teaching careers in bilingual education to increase the quality of bilingual education for culturally and linguistically diverse students in Kansas.
“The program offers students an outside-the-box thinking about what it means to succeed at the university level,” Herrera said. “We ensure that our students succeed by supporting them psychologically and culturally. We get to know the whole person and stay open to whatever their needs are. The center really ends up being an extension of their family.”
The program has enrolled between 30 and 50 students every semester since it began in 1999. The university program will graduate its 100th bilingual and bicultural student in May 2013. Herrera sees this milestone as a huge advantage for the state.
“At times, our graduates may be the only person of color or the only bilingual student in a particular school,” Herrera said. “Our program has had a major impact across the state of Kansas.”
The students who graduate continue to succeed, Herrera said. Of the 100 students, more than 70 graduates have started working on master’s degrees. Five graduates are working on earning doctorates. Herrera said these numbers were particularly impressive because 80 of the 100 students are first-generation college students.
“These numbers really show what a program can accomplish when you nurture the skills that individuals possess and give them wings to go on and accomplish more,” Herrera said. “These graduates left with such a level of self-confidence that the bachelor’s degree was not stopping them.”
Under the direction of Herrera, the center has received more than $30 million in federal funding during the last 12 years. This funding supports student scholarships and staff. Herrera said she hoped that recent recognition would become a catalyst for seeking new funding sources, both private and public, so that the program can institutionalize a set of scholarships for an extended period of time.
“The BESITOS program is our heart,” Herrera said. “Undergraduates come to us when they are 18 or 19 years old and they steal our heart. Even after they graduate, they stay as a fabric of our center for a long time.”
As an Example of Excelencia finalist, the university program will be included in the 2012 edition of “What Works for Latino Students in Higher Education: Examples of Excelencia Compendium.” The program will also be included in the Growing What Works database.