Newman students advocate in Washington, D.C.

May 09, 2023

Newman students Alondra Valle and Andrea Fuentes recently attended the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) in Washington, D.C. April 17-20. 

Newman University is recognized by HACU as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Newman is in the process of completing its application with the U.S. Department of Education for its HSI designation, which will open the door for extra funding for students.

The two students were asked by Assistant Professor of Spanish and Co-Director of Hispanic Initiatives Sonja Bontrager to attend this conference. Bontrager and Yolanda Camarena, who is a donor, Newman Board of Trustees member and former Newman employee, also traveled to D.C., where the group took part in the 28th Annual Capitol Forum on Capitol Hill to advocate for higher education. 

Camarena, Fuentes and Valle pose for a photo
Camarena, Fuentes and Valle pose for a photo

“I learned a lot of facts like how there are currently five colleges in Kansas looking to become HSI schools, how according to votes we have 5 million students (identifying as Latino) and how eventually 78% of the workforce will be Latino,” said Valle. 

The conference portion was only two days long, but it was packed with information. The first day was filled with sessions where different leaders talked to the students, two of them being the CEO of HACU and the other being the representative of Connecticut. 

Valle poses with Kansas sign in D.C.
Valle poses with Kansas sign in Washington, D.C.

“On the first day of the conference, they asked all the students to move to a different room. Once everyone was in the room I noticed a microphone in the middle, I grabbed it and introduced myself, and made everyone else introduce themselves with me. It was nice seeing all the students coming together and making this a great learning experience,” said Fuentes.

The second day consisted of more sessions with different leaders such as the U.S. secretary of commerce and secretary of education. In the afternoon, the group met with Kansas Rep. Ron Estes and Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, an advocate for HACU and HSIs.

Fuentes and Valle pose for a photo together during the conference.
Fuentes and Valle pose for a photo together during the conference.

“Being able to advocate for people like me was very special, as sometimes people don’t take the time to learn about types of students like myself and others that are a part of the student body,” said Valle. 

Fuentes added, “Hearing about HSI and HACU as a first-generation student coming from an immigrant household, you feel overwhelmed with joy because you realize that people actually want to see you succeed in your career.”

The trip wasn’t all work and no play. The Newman crew took part in a night tour of the White House, Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and others. They also visited the National Air and Space Museum on one of their days off. 

Photo of Lincoln Memorial during Valle's night tour.
Photo of Lincoln Memorial during the group’s night tour.

One of the quotes that stuck out to Valle during the conference was “You can change the future but the present is now.”

“It stood out to me because while yes, we all have the power to change the future, we can also help change the present,” said Valle. 

Fuentes was happy to experience the conference alongside Valle, Bontrager and Camarena.

“To all the students at Newman and especially to the first gens coming from an immigrant household, ‘Si se puede!'”

Valle (far left) and Fuentes (far right) pose for a photo at the HACU conference.
Valle (far left) and Fuentes (far right) pose for a photo at the HACU conference.

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