Student ambassador Esther Vega has a simple, yet powerful way to connect with some of the parents she meets on campus tours and at college fairs: she speaks to them in Spanish.
“These parents just want to be heard and listened to,” she says. “It’s just so much more comfortable for them. And to me, it’s a sign of respect.”
Making sure prospective students and their families feel welcome is why Esther took on the task of translating an Honors College brochure into Spanish. And it’s why she brings Mexican candy to recruiting events, even if it’s gone within minutes.
Although Esther was a little indecisive at first about what to study at Oregon State, she landed on industrial engineering, which she describes as the science of optimization and efficiency in systems. The Honors College encourages interdisciplinary study, and the system she chose to examine for her thesis was K-12 education. She wanted to see how community programs could better connect teachers and Latinx parents.
Esther’s thesis is a byproduct of TEAMS: Teachers Educating All Multilingual Students. The $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant is helping in-service teachers at five Oregon districts earn their English for Speakers of Other Languages endorsement.
Esther’s research focused on events to bring teachers and parents together in a welcoming and safe space. She says both groups were hesitant to talk to each other.
“Teachers are nervous to talk to parents because they don’t speak their native language, and they don’t really understand their culture,” she says. “And minority parents are nervous to go to schools and talk to teachers in a language that is not their first language.”
What overcame that hesitation, she found, was parents and teachers realizing they had a common goal: to help their students excel in school. Other findings from her research were specific and practical. For example, many parents don’t use email, so community events were better attended when promoted on Spanish-language radio stations.
Esther says she makes being welcoming a priority because the Honors College welcomed her. She applied “on a whim to see if I could get in.” Esther knew she had the grades but was less confident about her test scores.
“I think something amazing about the Honors College is that they take a holistic approach to selecting students,” Esther says. “It’s nice to be seen as more than a test score.”
Scholarships have made much of Esther’s college experience possible. She earned a differential tuition scholarship from the Honors College, a Finley academic scholarship from OSU and two industrial engineering scholarships. A URSA Engage scholarship helped fund her thesis, and an Honors College experiential learning scholarship allowed her to attend a professional conference at Harvard.
With another two years to go before completing her degree, Esther says she’s most grateful for her friendships in the Honors College and her relationships with multiple faculty mentors.
“It has definitely taken a village to get me where I am today,” Esther says. “I like my village.”