By Edith Yang

“A lot of students don’t stay in college after they get in, and it’s really hard when you’re at a school like [UC Santa Cruz] with not too much diversity,” said Beatriz Castillo, coordinator of the Gente Conference. “If we plan together and do these things to help our community, it keeps us going in our education.”

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan (MEChA) holds the conference once a year for students and their parents.

Rather than just educating students about higher education, it invites parents to become more knowledgeable about the advantages of higher education for their children and aims to help them reach it.

“This is the only program under Engaging Education [a center that facilitates and funds programs that focuses on student-run organizations] that targets parents,” Paulina Raygoza, organizing director for Engaging Education, said.

The conference focuses on the Chicano/Latino community, and is held in both Spanish and English to reach a wider audience. “It’s really sad when we’re really the dominant community within the state. It’s wanting to make that equal representation [on campus],” Raygoza said.

Regarding the Raza community, Perla Miranda, the other coordinator for Gente, gives statistics on how uninformed prospective students are about higher education.

“Only 25 percent of the folks that graduated had the preparation for a UC or CSU school, and I think that’s extremely low,” Miranda said.

Gente includes workshops that respond to those statistics by assisting students and parents in the pursuit of higher education, and to hopefully encourage younger students to consider it in their future plans.

“[Gente] invites students to come learn about the process of applying for school, financial aid, and different things they might want to start thinking about at an earlier age,” Raygoza said. “This program doesn’t just target high school students who are seniors, on track, or thinking about it; it also targets students who are not thinking about it, who may be interested but because of their resources haven’t thought about it.”

Castillo believes that those who seem to get the most out of this program are the parents.

“The parents get very excited about coming up and seeing the campus,” Castillo said. “They’re working all the time, and even for the parents in the city of Santa Cruz, they are always occupied and don’t even attempt to come up here. It’s like a whole other place. It’s good to come and see a glimpse of what is offered.”

Not only is this program an advantage for prospective college students, this program also makes UCSC students feel they are included in something important. “It’s a good form of retention for the people that are in college, we are really motivated to stay in school because of this,” Castillo said.

This year, the Gente program hopes to reach out further to the community. “I’m hoping that this year we’ll be doing more follow-up work,” Castillo said.

“We’re looking forward to bringing a lot of people,” Miranda said. “We’re trying to reach out to middle schools and high schools in the local areas, but we’re also trying to go down to Monterey and in the South Bay Area.”