National-Louis University Announces a Landmark Project Focused on Recruiting and Retaining Latino Students

National-Louis University today launched Proyecto Comunidad, a landmark initiative to recruit and retain Latino college students and teachers, and to place them in Chicago‘s marketplace as successful professionals. To spearhead this initiative, National-Louis University officials announced the appointment of Ana Maria Soto, a nationally-recognized Latina leader, as the executive director of Proyecto Comunidad.

    As the region’s demographics continue to change, Latinos have become Chicagoland’s fastest growing minority. More than 1.6 million Latinos reside in Chicago and its suburban areas, according to estimates by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Latinos are already the largest ethnic group in Chicagoland, and their population is expected to double over the next 30 years. The successful integration of Latinos is considered a critical factor to help Chicago‘s economy remain competitive in the national and global markets. Yet, as Chicago‘s Latino population continues to grow, education has become the group’s main challenge.

    "The need for a stronger resolve and more resources to solve this problem is clear," said Dr. Richard Pappas, president of Chicago‘s National-Louis University. "National-Louis is in an ideal position to address these needs and to respond with innovative policies."

    In the process of creating a strategic plan for the 121-year-old university, Pappas launched Proyecto Comunidad, a community-wide initiative tied directly to NLU’s strategic plan that will promote access to higher education for Chicago‘s Latino community and increase the number of area Latinos who earn a degree. "We want to make Proyecto Comunidad at National-Louis University the model for recruiting, retaining and graduating Latino students in major urban areas throughout the country," said Pappas.

    Pappas convened an advisory board to provide advice and counsel for the initiative. Led by Board Chairman Julian Posada, general manager of Hoy, Chicago‘s largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, and National-Louis University Board of Trustees Chairman Diana Mendley Rauner, the advisory body includes a diverse group of local community college presidents, business executives, heads of community-based organizations and philanthropic leaders.

    "It’s a rare instance when you find senior leadership at a university willing to change decades-old policies and really embrace change," said Posada. "Making this a core part of the university’s strategic plan is more impressive than slightly altering your curriculum or adding a degree."

    Ana Maria Soto, a coalition builder and NLU’s new Executive Director of Latino Initiatives

    As a central piece to Proyecto Comunidad, National-Louis officials appointed Ana Maria Soto as Executive Director of Latino Initiatives. Soto, a 2004 National Hispana Leadership Institute Fellow, describes herself as "a high energy coalition builder who can bring community partners together on issues of education, political and civic empowerment."

    "Proyecto Comunidad is about building strong partnerships in the community to address the issue of Latino students’ recruitment, retention and placement," Soto said. "National-Louis University is at a unique position to become a national leader in this field. We must help form the education and business leaders of the future and leverage the huge potential of the area’s Latino youth."

    Prior to joining National-Louis University Soto was the Director of Latino Cultural Affairs at Columbia College Chicago, where among her accomplishments she developed multicultural programming for the college, provided mentoring and training to approximately 1,000 Latino students every academic year, initiated a network for Latino collegiate staff from around the region to pool resources, and designed and implemented numerous internship placements in high profile media organizations.

    "More and more Latinos are successful business owners and entrepreneurs. But frequently they achieve this without a strong education background," she said. "Now imagine the impact Latinos can have in the Chicago economy if class after class of Latino MBAs, education and healthcare professionals graduate and enter the job market," Soto said.

    Soto previously held positions with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She received her bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee and her Master of Arts in Political Science from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain.

    As an urban university whose mission is access and opportunity, National-Louis is positioned to put programs and support systems in place to ensure that Chicago‘s Latinos earn college degrees in far greater numbers than they do now. "I believe there is strength in partnerships and that working with the community is the best way to find ways to increase the number of its residents who earn a college degree," said Pappas.

    That translates to some specific goals for Proyecto Comunidad, which, among many others, includes creating new merit and need-based scholarships for Latino students and strengthening and increasing NLU’s alliances and partnerships with the Chicago Public Schools, area community colleges and Latino communities to prepare Latino students to pursue a college degree.

    "It is important to emphasize that standards and a quality education must accompany access," said Martha Casazza, dean of NLU’s College of Arts and Sciences. "That is certainly Proyecto’s mission," she continued.

"Rather than just providing access to students, we also want to nurture opportunity for students through innovative teaching, community engagement, and service excellence."

    While National-Louis is already a top destination for community college transfers in northern Illinois, Proyecto seeks to capitalize on that success by improving articulation agreements with community colleges, creating a pool of scholarships and developing programs targeted specifically to Latino transfer students.

        National-Louis University has been a force for change in American education since its founding in 1886. Known for nearly a century as the National College of Education, it is still nationally renowned today not only for its programs in teacher preparation and educational leadership, but as one of the first universities to address the unique needs of adult learners. National-Louis pioneered accelerated education for adults, and today offers a range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the National College of Education, the College of Arts and Science and the College of Management and Business.

    National-Louis has a flagship urban campus at 122 South Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago; campuses in Lisle, Skokie, Wheeling and Elgin, Ill.; as well as Beloit and Milwaukee, Wis.; Washington, D.C.; McLean, Va.; Florida and Poland.

SOURCE National-Louis University

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