Leading Students By Her Example

by Teri Vance

 

It is not unusual for Lupe Ramirez, Western Nevada College’s Latino outreach coordinator, to see her students out and about on the weekends at quinceañeras and other events. While some educators may be uncomfortable in a similar situation, Ramirez welcomes it. “I want them to see that we are the same,” she said. “I go home and eat beans just like you guys do. It’s OK for us to be part of both cultures.” As Ramirez leads students through the process of enrolling in and completing college, she knows the challenges they face. For most, they grew up speaking Spanish and still do at home. Their parents don’t understand the education system and sometimes don’t make it a priority. Working often takes precedence.

“Most students at least have a part-time job, and that’s our biggest barrier in retention,” she explained. “Working is important to the culture, and sometimes they’re supporting their parents. It’s hard for us here at the institution to convince them that education is the best choice to prepare them for a better future.” It’s a challenge she’s had to overcome herself. Ramirez moved with her parents and three sisters from Huejuquilla, Jalisco in Mexico to the United States when she was 13. “I did not speak English at all,” she said. “We had a very difficult transition.”

 

Her father worked on a ranch in Topaz and she attended school in Coleville, Calif. “There was no English-as-a-second-language program, so they gave us flashcards to learn from sitting in the back of the Spanish class,” she recalled. “After we started feeling confident with the language, we transferred into regular classes.” Upon graduation in 1983, she considered attending classes at Western Nevada College. “My father was old school, very protective,” Ramirez said. “He told me, ‘Mija, it’s too far.’”  So she got a job waiting tables in Walker, where she met her husband, Roberto, a year later and moved with him to Carson City, where she got another waitress job at El Charro Avitia.

At the same time, she enrolled in English and typing classes at the college. A part-time receptionist job at the college led to a full-time position in the typing pool. She continued working part-time as a waitress and taking classes. “I just loaded myself up with work and school,” she said. “I liked that education was providing me different opportunities.” She moved through different departments, transitioning to student services 10 years ago as an assistant to the dean. She was given the assignment then to reach out to the Latino population.

 

“The president at the time had the concern that our students were not graduating,” Ramirez recalled. “She challenged us to come up with a support system for the population.” From there, the Latino Cohort was born in 2010, with Ramirez at the helm and being named the Administrative Faculty of the Year in 2016. Students enrolled in the cohort take classes as a group and often volunteer in the community together.

“I am passionate about helping our first-generation students commit to an education plan,” she said. “I feel that is the only way we’re going to make a difference. We want to prepare them with an education so they can be leaders in our community.” Along the way, Ramirez has continued pursuing her own education, earning an associate’s degree in business from the college. She will graduate in December with a degree in business management from Western Governor’s University. “It has been a long journey, but I have to lead by example if I am going to be respected by my peers and students,” she said.