Attending college can be intimidating for a first-generation college student. Having a friendly, approachable person like Maria Solis-Camarena to talk to can make all the difference in the world.
Maria Solis-Camarena is the new Latina/o Outreach and Retention Specialist (LORS). Her life has prepared her for this role. She was the first high school graduate in her family and a low-income, first-generation Latina college student.
“I know the struggle,” said Solis-Camarena. “Balancing home life and work, while at the same time helping family, and still setting goals and thinking about a future for yourself.”
LORS is a brand new position at LBCC.
“This is a statement from LBCC in that we want to be responsive to changing demographics in our service district, “ said Javier Cervantes director for the Department of Equity, Division and Inclusion. “Within the last five years, Latino enrollment has gone up from about four percent to nine percent.”
The position’s aim is to get students college-ready by connecting with parents and children starting in high school.
“We want LBCC to be the first step in their college education,” said Solis-Camarena.
Once a student starts at LBCC, Solis-Camarena can assist students with anything from looking for scholarships and helping them navigate the resources, to just being someone to talk with.
“I want them to feel an actual human connection, not just be someone handing them a pamphlet,” said Solis-Camarena.
Solis-Camarena grew up in Mesa, Arizona. She attended the University of Arizona receiving a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in Spanish in 2011.
While at the university, Solis-Camarena sought assistance from the TRIO program.
TRIO is made up of eight federally funded outreach and service programs that assist low-income, first-generation college students or those with disabilities navigate the school system from high school through doctoral programs.
Solis-Camarena became a TRIO peer mentor during her junior year and wrapped up her senior year as a program coordinator. This set the stage for future positions.
After graduation she worked for organizations that serve low-income and first generation students by making them college-ready.
During that time, Solis-Camarena began working on a master’s degree in education leadership with an emphasis on higher education from Northern Arizona University, graduating in 2015.
In mid 2015, Solis-Camarena moved to Oregon. Her position prior to coming to LBCC was as a permanency caseworker in the Linn County Department of Human Services Division of Child Welfare. She started at LBCC on October 20.
“Her personal testimony and narrative from her own life made her the most qualified candidate,” said Cervantes. “She is smart, competent, and compassionate.”
Last week she was at South Albany High School’s financial aid night, helping families fill out the FAFSA, answering questions about college and translating conversations among attendees.
South Albany, Corvallis and Philomath high schools are her primary targets as well as the Juntos program. Juntos is part of Oregon State University’s extension mission, uniting school, family and community efforts to enhance student access to higher education through parental involvement.
Solis-Camarena wants to craft the LORS position to best serve the Latino community by getting feedback from them on what they need, as well as from counselors and administrators.
According to Cervantes the LORS position was created to serve any student in Linn and Benton counties, but with the Latino population almost 17 percent at South Albany High School and 15 percent at Corvallis High School there’s a need to reach out to Latino students specifically.
“We don’t want them to get lost and lose out on resources just because [LBCC] couldn’t respond,” said Solis-Camarena.
Solis-Camarena’s motivation for working with students and the community goes beyond just connecting them with resources.
“You become a part of their life and they become part of yours,” said Solis-Camarena. “You don’t remember the day and time of tutoring. You remember the person who helped you find that tutor in the first place.”
By Danielle Jarkowsky