Sophomore to sophomore, mentors prepare Latino students for UNC success

Posted November 2, 2015 2:20 p.m. EST
Updated November 2, 2015 6:36 p.m. EST

— A group from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is getting some pretty serious support for its mentoring efforts.

UNC's Scholars’ Latino Initiative, or SLI, was recently recognized by the White House for efforts to help more Latino youth pursue a higher education.

The three-year program identifies students before they even step on campus and introduces them to college life. The program pairs a sophomore in high school with a sophomore at UNC.

The secret, SLI organizers say, is in the relationships.

"That really is the glue of the program, said Ricky Hurtado, executive director of SLI. "That really close interpersonal connection allows a student to see what it's like being a college student at UNC."

High schoolers visit UNC once a month for college prep and other courses taught by UNC professors.

"That really allows them to get the rigor that they are sometimes missing in their own classrooms," Hurtado said.

Organizers point to success stories like that of Oscar Avilez, who started as a mentee in the program and now volunteers with younger students.

"I knew ever since I was a little kid that I wanted to go to college, so SLI really helped me to get that process started," Avilez said. "Now, I'm here at UNC, and I couldn't imagine being here without the help of SLI."

In any given year, 75 UNC students provide support through SLI to 75 high school students and 150 parents.

In addition to academic preparation, participants also get advice to help them pay for college.

"I think I try to give them inspiration that this is possible," Avilez said.

With the White House recognition, the SLI team hopes to reach even more students in the future.