KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When the University of Missouri-Kansas City hired Ivan Ramirez at their Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, one thing really surprised him.
"When I came onboard, the climate survey said that Latino students didn’t feel like they belong at the university," Ramirez said.
It was not an unfamiliar feeling to Ramirez, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico and became the first in his family to attend college at the University of Central Missouri.
"Education was important for them," Ramirez said of his parents, "(but) they did not understand the process of higher ed or what I was doing in the classroom or at the university."
Now, Ramirez heads UMKC's Avanzando program. Translated, it means "going forward" and aims to help the school's Latino students feel welcome and stay on track since 2011.
"Instead of having to lose time and energy trying to find support, that is already built in," Theresa Torres, an associate professor of Race, Ethnic and Gender Studies at UMKC, said.
Two years ago, Ramirez took over the program, putting to use the lessons he learned from his own college experience. The number of students participating has quadrupled to more than 250.
"I heard it can get me connected with other people," one of those students, Donovan Castaneda, said, "and I know as a transfer student, it can get really hard to connect with other people."
To continue the program's growth, Ramirez and Torres say they need the help from the community in the form of mentors
"The more mentors that we have, the better and stronger that they will be as students," Torres said.
Besides foraging opportunities, Ramirez wants to sure make their culture is celebrated with others.
"I do not want the students to go through the same hardships that I went (through)," Ramirez said.
Anyone interested in mentoring should contact Ivan Ramirez at email@example.com.
Editor's note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified Ramirez as a former UMKC student.