Universities

Universities want to attract more Hispanics to higher education

DENTON, Texas — The University of North Texas is one of 7 colleges in Texas joining a group of 20 nationwide to bring more Hispanic people into research and higher education over the next 8 years.

The group – which formed this summer as The Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities – aims to multiply opportunities. Its two main goals are to double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled at partner universities and to increase the number of Hispanic professors by 20% by 2030.

“Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States and now make up 17% of the workforce, but they continue to be underrepresented in higher education. No group is better positioned than us to broaden the pathway to opportunity,” said Heather Wilson, president of the University of Texas at El Paso and president of the alliance, in a press release announcing their formation. “We believe we are stronger together than as individual institutions acting alone.”

At UNT, President Neal Smatresk emphasized the importance of this second goal, increasing the number of Hispanic faculty.

“Maybe 3 or 4 percent of our teachers are Hispanic, 5 percent of our teachers are Hispanic,” Smatresk said.

The UNT president said representation is really key in education, and creating mentors from all walks of life who can better connect with underrepresented students is an important piece of the puzzle. He said most of the time the students they are trying to reach don’t even realize the opportunity is there or that they can reach it.

Such was the case for Manuel Reiz and Jose Robledo, who are now lab partners and each about a year away from their PhD in biology at UNT. Reiz said he spent most of his youth in Mexico before moving with his family to Houston. He is now the first in his family to have a higher education.

It’s a similar case for Robledo, who is also a first-generation student.

“I was raised harvesting cucumbers and peppers,” Robledo said.

Through hard work and scholarships, the two men were able to break the mould. They said the encouragement and guidance of Hispanic mentors at college helped them get started on the path to their doctorate – and to a future solving the world’s problems.

Along with the research, the pair said they now plan to repay the mentorship they received by becoming professors themselves.

“We want to get into academics,” Reiz said. “Preparing the next generation of scientists.”

“It’s just a way to give back, to give back to my own community,” Robledo added.

Their story is what President Smatresk and the other university leaders in the coalition hope to create more of.

“You can’t choose jobs you’ve never heard of. So we need a support structure that says, you know, there are great jobs as researchers, there are great jobs as university professors and you can take advantage, if you wish, from the life of the spirit,” Smateresk said.

According to the press release on the formation of the group, university leaders plan to work together through several grants to create new opportunities and work to change the current dynamic.

Other Texas universities involved are Texas Tech, UT Arlington, UT Austin, UT El Paso, UT San Antonio, and the University of Houston.