Mentoring, Scholarship Help LASER Provide a Path for Latino Students
By Alaina Bartel
Outreach and Engagement Communications Student Intern
In high school, Frederick Aldama saw many of his Latino friends headed down self-destructive paths. He believes if it wasn't for his mother, and a reminder that he is capable of making it to college, his life would have turned out much differently.
Now, as an Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor and University Distinguished Scholar, he hopes to instill that reminder he once received into Latino and Latina students in Columbus through the LASER program at Ohio State.
Aldama is the founder and director of LASER: Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research, which is the country's first hub for scholarship and mentoring that centers on Latinos and the knowledge and cultural production of the Latin/o Americas.
The program was selected as a 2015 Bright Spot in Hispanic Education by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics - which aims to strengthen the nation by expanding educational opportunities and improving educational outcomes for Hispanics.
Frederick Aldama, LASER founder and director (kneeling) with LASER Scholars and staff.
"The future of our nation is inextricably linked to the future of the Hispanic community - Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group, and will represent 60 percent of our nation's population growth between 2005 and 2050. However, Hispanics have the lowest education attainment levels of any group in the United States," according to the initiative's website.
Established in 2010, LASER's mission is to create a total mentoring system from high school through undergraduate and graduate school for Latinos. The program utilizes research, lecture series, events, along with mentoring to build connections within the community and the nation to inspire young Latinos.
"My favorite part is seeing these kids who have been told no, no, no their whole lives by their teachers and counselors, suddenly realize that there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of yeses," Aldama said. "Not only seeing them excel in their curriculum in high school, as a result of working closely with our undergraduate mentors, but also seeing them blossom in terms of LASER introducing them to professionals in the community, internships opening up for the students, and coming to campus and seeing the wonderful possibilities."
Carlos Mendez, a fourth-year in biomedical engineering and a mentor in the program, said he believes what LASER does is not only important for the students' self-development, but also the development of the Columbus community.
"It reaches students who are normally not reached. There are a lot of great mentorship programs of which I've been a part of on campus, but the crucial aspect of LASER is that they particularly target high achieving kids from underprivileged backgrounds," Mendez said.
Students at a LASER event.
Aldama said another important part of the program is showcasing that Ohio State is a vital space for creative knowledge making in the field of Latino studies, and all aspects of it. To emphasize this, LASER hosts two signature events every year: SOL CON and Latino Role Models Day.
SOL CON brings Latino and African American comic book authors from all across the country to create bridges between communities. SOL Con's inauguration took place in October, bringing together middle and high school students to meet with and learn from the artists and authors in Hale Hall. The new generation of students of color participated in a comic book creation workshop, listened to academic panels, and had one-on-one conversations with the artists.
The second event, Latino Role Models Day, takes place every April, bringing to the Ohio State campus successful Latino role models from Columbus's professional world; including those in law, medicine, nonprofits, and for-profits, as well as hosting a panel of undergraduate Latino students to relate to the high school students by answering their questions and concerns.
In 2014 Aldama's LASER teamed up with Zhong-Lin Lu's Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences to create the annual, week-long Humanities and Cognitive Sciences High School Summer Institute. Now in its third year, Aldama targets underrepresented high school students, providing scholarships that allow them to learn from Ohio State faculty in further developing critical thinking skills and knowledge built at the intersection of the humanities and cognitive sciences.
Aldama added that every high school student in LASER has gone on to college, and believes "If people don't wake up and see that tomorrow is a future built on and by Latinos, then basically, we will have no future. LASER is all about tomorrow."
Contact: Frederick Aldama, firstname.lastname@example.org