UAH Hispanic students travel to Puerto Rico to recruit college-bound students


For The University of Alabama in Huntsville's (UAH) Hispanic Student Organization (HSO), and staff of the Office of Diversity, December is the season for recruiting.

In two days, a team of 17 people including university professors, students, staff, community volunteers, NASA engineers, and Boeing engineers will leave Huntsville for San Juan, Puerto Rico. The group has more than 15 boxes of school supplies, recruitment materials, and other donations packed up and ready to go. "We have a full agenda each day, and we plan to impact over 1500 high school students and 400 college-level students all across the island,” said Maria Emma Torres, president of the university's HSO.

Upon their arrival to the island, the UAH group will travel to The University of Puerto Rico at Humacao (UPR), to attend a special ceremony where Charles F. Bolden, Jr., NASA Administrator, will honor members of the UPR Moonbuggy Team for their 2014 first place performance. The UAH Office of Diversity and HSO hosted the UPR team during their visit to Huntsville, which included a talk by UAH President Robert Altenkirch, campus tours and meals.

This is the second year in a row, the HSO has organized a December service trip to Puerto Rico, reaching out to high school students in Hispanic communities to promote UAH, and discuss the importance of obtaining a college degree. It is the first visit to the island of Puerto Rico by Diversity staff members, Delois H. Smith (vice president), and Brandie Roberts (administrative assistant).

The UAH group includes professors Dr. William Setzer (professor and department chair, Chemistry), and Dr. Houssam Toutanji (associate dean and department chair in Civil & Environmental Engineering); 10 students; NASA and Boeing employees; community volunteers; and, of course, Smith and Roberts Diversity staff members.

Torres, has been the driving force behind organizing the annual recruitment trip to the island. "We plan to visit Puerto Rico with the purpose of recruiting students to pursue a college education at UAH. On this trip we will travel to public high schools, private high schools, and universities in both urban and rural areas in an effort to recruit students for both undergraduate and graduate studies at UAH. We will also visit a rural elementary school to provide them with donations that were collected earlier this semester by a school supply drive hosted by the Alabama Student Rural Health Association.“

A senior at UAH, Torres is double majoring in chemistry and biology with a minor in Spanish. A graduate of East Limestone High School, she was born in Huntsville and raised in the Harvest community. Her parents are native Puerto Ricans, and the family settled in North Alabama after her father was hired at NASA.

"Maria has often taken the initiative, on her own, to support and be an advocate on behalf of UAH whenever she has the opportunity," said Delois H. Smith, Vice President UAH Office of Diversity. "Maria and HSO have fully embraced what we all try to do; be an ambassador and representative for UAH wherever we go. The Office of Diversity is pleased to partner and support these efforts on behalf of UAH."

"During visits to high schools, we will show a Spanish version of the general UAH admissions video, filmed and edited by members of HSO. Also, we will cover several aspects of a college education including the application process, the ACT/SAT exam, and financial aid, as well as highlight the numerous internship, co-op, and research opportunities available to UAH students,” said Torres.

Additionally, HSO has been contacted by two radio stations on the on the island regarding the group's visit. "They want us to talk about UAH and the purpose of our visit," Torres said. "They have asked for students and professors to speak on a live broadcast. This will be a great opportunity to publicize the university during the trip.”

"I believe that the Hispanic Student Organization at UAH will definitely make an impact at each school we visit," Torres said. "Also, the UAH students traveling with us will benefit from the experience of being exposed to the government and educational system in Puerto Rico, as well as the island culture. This will allow students to gain new perspectives and ideas regarding college education."

The HSO service trip to Puerto Rico was funded by the UAH Office of Diversity.

**EDITOR'S NOTE: HSO students travelling to Puerto Rico include: Maria Torres, Pablo Torres, Delia Martinez, Bryan Fernandez, Kelly Steinburg, Juan Garcia-Delgado, Garrett Dunn, Danielle Curet, Nathan Schrock and Rogie Rodriguez.


Joyce Anderson-Maples