Adelante Latina! Studnets at UMBC and Ms. Blum, Dr. Charles Ritter, and I at their 2012 Retirement Party
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting two high school juniors from Adelante Latina! at UMBC’s annual “Just for Juniors” program—an all day event that introduces students to the college admission process and exciting opportunities at UMBC. If you are unfamiliar with Adelante Latina!, it is a wonderful after-school program for Latina girls (grades 10-12) that through prep classes, mentoring, and other cultural activities, prepares them for college. The program also offers scholarships and money to enter state colleges. Ms. Leonor Blum, professor emerita of history, at the University of Notre Dame of Maryland the founder and director of the program. Adelante Latina! is always looking for volunteers and opportunities for the girls, so please please contact Ms. Blum, especially if you are in higher ed, if you think you have something of value to offer.
I have known Ms. Blum since 2002 when I took her European History class as a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, then the College of Notre Dame. As a first generation college student from a lower socioeconomic background, who had no idea what she had gotten herself into (and devoid of anyone in her family or close friends to rely on for support/mentorship), Ms. Blum enabled me to find my voice and to blossom as a student. She validated my voice and was one of the first people to make me feel like I was intelligent and had the ability to do great things. Beyond the classroom, however, Ms. Blum supported my growth. Indeed, she helped me navigate the financial aid process, when, in my sophomore year, I almost had to drop out of college due to my inability to pay. I was also one of those undergraduates that had to work a bank drive thru 20 hours a week in addition to taking a full course load. She and other faculty at Notre Dame, however, had the biggest impact when I became pregnant in my junior year and had the misfortune of experiencing domestic violence from my then partner. In fact, I was in Ms. Blum’s International Politics class on the morning of Tuesday, September 28, 2004, the day before I gave birth. Ms. Blum and others at Notre Dame worked with me through this difficult time by allowing me to complete my coursework at home until I was able to return to classes 6 weeks later in November. These were very difficult times, which is an entirely different blog post, but the push and commitment of Ms. Blum, and other faculty, at Notre Dame to my success, made the difference. I stayed in college, graduated Summa cum Laude with a BA in History and Spanish in December of 2005, went on to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where I earned by MA in Intercultural Communication in 2008 and a PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture in 2014. Sure, Ms. Blum’s letter of recommendation for graduate school helped, but it was the daily support and encouragement I received from her that helped most.
Throughout the day with the girls, I saw my past experience reflected in their current reality, but knew that with the mentorship of Ms. Blum and the Adelante Latina! program that they too will great their full potentials.This experience also reinforced for me the importance of mentoring and sponsorship and the role that we have to support our peers and the next generation. Mentoring is critical, we all need mentors and we should all engage in mentoring others because our success is not only determined by what we know, but who we know (i.e., who is in our network). I hope that my hosting the girls at UMBC yesterday, however, small of an act, empowered them with an expanded network and demystified the college application process.
My time with the girls yesterday also reinforced and reminded me of how rewarding the mentoring relationship can be for the mentee and also the mentor. As the girls learned about the college admissions process, I learned so much about myself and offer both of them thanks for reminding me of the importance of mentoring and gratitude for the Ms. Blum’s that help us along the way.