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MEChA and College Match Working Together

Michael Garcia had never heard of Vassar until he joined 40 other Los Angeles high school juniors on a tour of about a dozen eastern colleges and universities in the spring of 2013. The trip was sponsored by College Match, an organization that helps gifted students from low-income families in the Los Angeles area gain admission to top-tier colleges across the country.

Top Row: College Match alums who are now members of the Vassar class of 2018: Christian Perez, Italo Calderon, Yomira Vergara, Juanita Herrera, Katie Spence, Marjeri Manguiat, Michael Garcia, Cristian Contreras, and Gary Garcia. Second row: MEChA members Cristian Ventura '17 and Stephanie Munoz '16, and MECHA co-facilitators Yessenia Pitones '16 and Prisilla Preciado '16. Front: Angelica Gutierrez '13.

“I was focusing on Princeton, Columbia and Duke when I left on that trip,” Garcia says, “but when I got to Vassar and saw the diversity on campus, I felt welcome. I decided to include it in my plans.”

Garcia wasn’t the only one on the trip who was impressed by what Vassar had to offer. He’s one of 12 College Match students to enroll in this year’s freshman class. It’s the largest number of students the organization has ever placed at a liberal arts college in one year, and College Match executive director Harley Frankel says he’s not surprised.  “We’ve been sending kids to Vassar for years, and the word gets around,” Frankel says. ”We love Vassar; the college sells itself.”

Some of the selling is done by the students of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan), who host the College Match students at Vassar every spring. Los Angeles native Angelica Gutierrez ’13, a College Match alumna herself, was a member of MEChA when the organization greeted Garcia’s group in 2013. Now Vassar's Exploring College Fellow, overseeing a program that helps low-income students from the Poughkeepsie area prepare for college -- Gutierrez and current MEChA members hosted an informal reception for the College Match freshmen shortly after classes began.

 “It’s great having them all here,” she says. “It was a goal of mine as a member of MEChA to bring more diversity to the campus, and obviously it’s happening.”

MEChA co-facilitator Prisilla Preciado ’16, who also learned about Vassar on a College Match trip when she was a high school junior, says she’s excited so many chose Vassar this year. “MEChA can serve as a great support system for them, and we look forward to having them contribute their ideas to the organization,” Preciado says. “But more than anything, we look forward to having them join the Vassar community and find a home far away from home.”

Working with organizations like College Match is an integral part of Vassar’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a diverse student body, Dean of Admissions Art Rodriguez says. “Places like Vassar have made working with such organizations a part of their recruitment efforts because they support our mission to enroll students who will be academically and socially successful in college,” Rodriguez says. “Our classrooms are enriched by the experiences these students bring to campus. We want various perspectives to enhance discussions, so enrollment of these students adds to the greater diversity of Vassar.”

Freshman Italo Calderon, who has already joined MEChA and another Hispanic group, Poder Latin@, says he was sold on Vassar after he observed some classroom discussions during his College Match trip to the campus last year. “I was looking for a smaller school where there was plenty of interaction between students and faculty inside and outside the classroom,” Calderon says. “I saw that at Vassar, and I saw that the campus was diverse.”

Juanita Herrera, who also made the trip to Vassar with Calderon and Garcia, agreed. “I didn’t have a ‘dream school’ when I was applying to colleges. My dream was to go to college; no one in my family had ever gone,” Herrera says. “But when I visited Vassar and met the students from MEChA, I saw a tight-knit community of people who weren’t just comfortable here, they were enthusiastic.”

Calderon says there was one other reason he decided to leave southern California and enroll at Vassar. “It snows here, and I wanted to experience that—although in a few months I might feel differently about winter,” he quips. But he adds it hasn’t taken him long to feel comfortable here. “I like my classes and feel I can handle the workload,” he says. “I feel like I belong here.”

--Larry Hertz

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, September 29, 2014