Ivy Tech working to open doors for Hispanic students from Cass County

Last Updated on March 17, 2021 by Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region

LOGANSPORT, Ind. — Jovita Flores grew up in a Spanish-speaking home in Logansport, the child of parents who emigrated from Mexico 35 years ago. She learned English in the Logansport public schools, graduated from Logansport High School, and then became the first person in her family to attend – and graduate from – college. She has lived the story so many of her fellow Logansport citizens are living, and she’s putting her heritage, her story, and her understanding to use in a new role as Ivy Tech Community College’s “Hispanic student enrollment specialist.”

In this new role, Flores is working to help Hispanic students from Logansport High School, and their parents, understand what college is, how it works, and what it can mean to their future. It’s an effort that also extends to older members of the Hispanic community who may never have thought college is for them. Most importantly, she provides targeted support for community members once they are enrolled at Ivy Tech, offering them a shoulder to lean on in what for many is a foreign world, helping them negotiate the challenges of financial aid, connecting them with tutors, steering them to advisers and potential employers, and working to find whatever help is needed to make success a reality.

College is not easy, she acknowledged, and it’s made even more difficult for students who are studying in two languages. Many Hispanic students work; helping provide for their families is part of their culture. Many are first-generation college students and “they need more help,” Flores said, “Just like me!”

Flores, who graduated from Logansport High School in 2009 and Indiana University Kokomo in 2013, joined the admissions staff of Ivy Tech’s Kokomo Service Area, which includes Cass, Fulton, Howard, Miami, and Tipton counties, in 2016. Derry Ebert, Ivy Tech Kokomo’s vice chancellor of enrollment services, said that with Jovita’s background, she was the logical choice to lead the new effort aimed at the Hispanic community.

“Ivy Tech has developed a strategic enrollment plan that focuses on expanding opportunity across various parts of our communities,” Ebert said. “The Hispanic community is one such group that we hope can benefit from increased support.” He cited statistics from the most recent College Readiness Report from Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education.

“In 2018, students who identified as Hispanic accounted for 40 percent of the Logansport High graduating class,” he continued. “Of those graduates, only 40 percent went directly on to college, compared with 60 percent of their white classmates. We know the difference additional education makes inn a student’s future success in life, and we want to do what we can to increase the number going on to college and completing those essential certificates and degrees.”

For Jovita, the coolest part of her job is its association with Logansport High School – and getting to work with staff and faculty who were there when she was in school there, including Matt Jones, the principal, and Elisa Banuelos, the English Learners Support Service coordinator for Logansport Community Schools. The work is also supported by Ivy Tech College Connection Coaches Erin Brindle and Mariola Hernandez, a new Spanish-speaking addition to the team, and Abby Lundy, coordinator for LHS’s ACHIEVE Center, who all work to guide students on their post-secondary journeys.

“One of my jobs is to share all the opportunities that an education can bring,” Flores said. “Parents may not realize how important education is in the United States or they may think it’s too expensive. I work to show them ways to encourage their children to go to school, and to share all the ways we can help them, including financially.”

She also is working hard to connect with community members who are interested in hiring bilingual employees. “I want to help find students in our programs, connecting them with employers to make sure we meet the community needs,” she said. Working with Ivy Tech Kokomo’s Career Coaching and Employer Connections (CCEC) team, she can help guide students to internships, work-and-learn opportunities, and part-time jobs that can lead to full-time employment by the time graduation comes around.

Flores is based at Ivy Tech’s Logansport campus and is immersed in the Logansport community. She said she and her parents have found that being part of a small community has really helped them meet their goals – including her parents’ dream of seeing Jovita continue her education beyond high school. Her younger sister is now a student at Ivy Tech.

For Flores, the proof of the value of what Ivy Tech provides is found in the many success stories she’s witnessed in just the five years she’s been with the college. She cites Hairo Ortega who, after he graduated from Ivy Tech, joined the staff of Indiana Tech to recruit students for its Logansport program; Joanna Lopez, another first-generation college graduate who now works as an immigration case worker at Immigrant Connection in Logansport; Jennifer Santiago, who, as an ASAP student, completed her associate degree in just 11 months, and who is now completing her master’s degree at Indiana University Kokomo; and Genesee Lopez, a graduate of Ivy Tech’s medical assisting program who has job offers lined up from doctors and medical offices needing bilingual employees.

“It’s wonderful to see these students be successful,” Flores said. “Watching them walk across the stage at commencement … I want to see that happen for a lot more students. I want to be a part of that happening for a lot more students.”

For more information about this program, or to learn more about the opportunities open to Hispanic students at Ivy Tech Kokomo, contact Flores at jflores26@ivytech.edu or 574-398-6105.

SOURCE: News release from Ivy Tech Community College