Dominican Awarded Department of Education Grant to Support Latinx Graduate Students

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Dominican University of California has been awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the enrollment and success of Latinx graduate students. La Vida Dominican Postbaccalaureate (LVDP) program is funded through a five-year grant from the Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) program.

This is the second HSI grant awarded to Dominican since the University was designated as a Minority Serving Institution (MSI) in 2022. Later that year, the university was awarded a five-year $3 million grant to support the La Vida Dominican undergraduate program to increase first-year and transfer enrollment and improve retention and graduation rates for undergraduate Latinx students.

LVDP launched this month. The program will offer graduate-level integrative coaching, scholarships and financial aid for assistantships and clinicals, a graduate resource center, and professional development opportunities for faculty and staff. Dominican will provide student services and programs focused on access, connection, success, and completion, including:

  • Building more access points connecting prospective students to a graduate education and providing more opportunities for Latinx and historically underserved students to attend Dominican. This includes expanding both hybrid and online offerings.
  • Increasing support for students during their time at Dominican. This includes providing direct financial support to students through scholarships and assistantships.
  • Improving student experiences and educational outcomes.

“Dominican seeks to increase the sense of belonging for Latinx and historically underserved graduate students by creating a welcoming space and preparing faculty and staff on how to best serve a diverse student body,” says Dr. Mojgan Behmand, the university’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty.

“Student relationships with advising, coaching, and mentoring are paramount to achievement. Wrap-around services to assist students in navigating life issues are also essential to keep graduate students on the path to success.”

Dominican offers graduate programs in accounting; applied sport and performance psychology; art therapy (MA and Phd); biological sciences (in partnership with BioMarin and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging); business administration; business analytics; counseling psychology; creative writing; cybersecurity; education; occupational therapy (MSOT and OTD); and physician assistant studies.

The Graduate Resource Center will be located in the new Center for the Dominican Experience, which is due to open next spring. Annual funds administered through the Graduate Resource Center will fund faculty and staff professional development offerings, as Dominican strengthens the graduate culture and builds on the existing capacity of the campus community.

LVDP fellows are currently being appointed to serve graduate students in their learning and engagement through sustained mentorship. These fellows will be current faculty and staff members.

“Fellows will play an active role in graduate students’ experiences, path toward success, and sense of belonging on campus,” Behmand says. “Their goal is to support a greater number of Latinx and historically underserved graduate students in the program by maximizing their access, connection, and success.”

Meanwhile, this summer, the La Vida Dominican undergraduate program hosted the inaugural cohort of 11 Avanza Summer Bridge students. These incoming first-year students gained a head start on their academic journey with a series of virtual and on-campus programming designed to enhance academic skill sets and strengthen the sense of belonging at Dominican. Three continuing students served as Avanza peer mentors.

“The Avanza Summer Bridge program was developed to provide accompaniment, a community of belonging, and direct access to campus resources for students who are entering their first year at Dominican,” says Dr. Lindsey Dean, La Vida Dominican Director. “Its curriculum and programming centers the interests and cultural wealth of those who identify as Latinx, Black, Indigenous, first-generation, and students of color.”

The student participants spent their first week on campus attending classes and meeting with faculty, staff, and peer mentors in order to explore the many aspects of the university’s signature program, the Dominican Experience, while also understanding how to navigate the higher education landscape as a student of color and/or a first-generation college student.
Through the Dominican Experience, all students receive personalized coaching; build meaningful relationships with professors, staff, and community partners; pursue self-directed work; and create digital portfolios to highlight their academic, personal, and professional accomplishments. In recent years, Dominican has earned national recognition for its strong outcomes in terms of student social mobility, student retention, and student graduation rates.

Beyond academic preparation, Avanza provided an opportunity for students to see themselves represented in the leadership and professional staff who share similar identities, says Josué Castillo, La Vida Dominican Student & Summer Bridge Program Coordinator, as well as an Integrative Coach. Castillo is a first-generation college student who graduated from Sonoma State University. Originally from Guatemala, he moved to the U.S. at a young age and has lived in Marin County since.

“What sets the Avanza summer bridge apart from other summer bridges is that we are not only incorporating the opportunity for students to network with peers but also with key individuals around campus,” Castillo says. “Avanza provided students with some of the basic skills students need to have before they start their university career, along with the opportunity to understand some of the challenges and experiences that may come with being a first-generation student.”

The students also participated in a two-unit course titled “La Lucha Sigue: Educated, Proud, Powerful.” The course was designed and taught by Dr. Lucia León, Assistant Professor of Latino Studies and Social Justice and La Vida Program Chair and Faculty Lead, in order to introduce students to Latinx, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) scholars and their tools to expand an understanding of BIPOC students and communities in the United States.

“By centering BIPOC students’ experiences, and the activist and academic efforts to expand educational equity, students will reflect on their lived experience, community, and social justice,” says León.

Workshops included math/science study skills & exploration, art, a writing session taught by graduate students in the MFA program, and a session on wellness. A student and alumni panel introduced the incoming students to various opportunities and meaningful experiences of continuing and graduate students. Communal lunches, dinners, and activities were shared by Avanza students, as well as staff and members of the La Vida team to create a casual and welcoming atmosphere and begin establishing connections from the start. All of this was followed by an outing to San Francisco and a celebratory dinner on the last day of the program

The La Vida team will hold monthly meetings to continue to build programming, check in about student progress, and offer updates on each area of the Dominican Experience and how the Faculty Fellows are working with La Vida students on the integration of each component into their college career. Lunch gatherings with students from the Avanza cohort will ensure that student voices continue to guide the development and success of La Vida.

“Year-long programming that is culturally relevant and grounded in the spirit of communing with one another will invite students, families, and community partners to film screenings, musical performances, and celebrations on campus such as Día de los Muertos,” Dean says.

“As we continue to build La Vida, our assessment efforts will expand to include direct outreach to family members to see how they, in addition to our students, can feel more connected to our campus community and what systems of support we can establish to aid them as they navigate the journey of being a parent or caregiver of a college student.”

Incoming La Vida Dominican undergraduate program students include graduates of San Rafael High School, Los Altos High School, Terra Linda High School, Leadership Public School (Richmond, Oakland, and San Francisco campuses), San Mateo High School, Roseland University Prep, Gilroy High School, and Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School.

Photograph: Avanza Summer Bridge students visit San Francisco during summer 2023.

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