Melody Rodriguez

The Goizueta Foundation Awards $870,000 to Armstrong

(May 20, 2011) Atlanta-based The Goizueta Foundation has awarded Armstrong Atlantic State University an $870,000 grant to continue to support a comprehensive Latino outreach, recruitment, progression and graduation initiative on campus. This is the third grant awarded to Armstrong by The Goizueta Foundation—previous grants were awarded in 2003 and 2006—bringing the total support from The Foundation to advance Hispanic/Latino education at Armstrong to $1,974,205.

“The Goizueta Foundation has again recognized the excellent work being done at Armstrong to improve educational opportunities for Latinos across our region,” said Armstrong President Linda Bleicken. “We are very grateful for their continued support, which allows us to enroll academically deserving students with limited financial resources.”

Armstrong will be able to provide $600,000 in immediate need-based scholarship assistance to Hispanic/Latino students over four years and $90,000 to support a pilot program designed to engage community partners, parents and students with the goal of graduation success for Hispanics/Latinos over three years. The university will add a position for a bilingual outreach and retention coordinator over four years.

In 2003, a new era for Hispanic/Latino education at Armstrong began with the establishment of the Hispanic Outreach & Leadership at Armstrong (HOLA) program. Melody Rodriguez, program founder and director, has spearheaded Hispanic/Latino education at Armstrong, leading a regional effort not only to recruit Latino students, but also to educate them and their families about the importance of higher education to improve their quality of life. HOLA was created to help Latino students succeed and fulfill their dreams of obtaining a college degree by providing enrollment services, academic support, leadership development and cultural activities to enrich their college experience.

“Part of that effort has been building community partnerships to create synergy to reach more high school students earlier in the pipeline and help them build preparedness for college, so that they understand academic and financial aid requirements and be able to have success in college.”

Since 2003, Armstrong has awarded scholarships to 56 students who maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above. Many of these students continue to receive the scholarship year after year, helping to increase retention and graduation rates.

“We have been very fortunate to provide scholarships to Latino students, because we know without a doubt that the greatest obstacle to Latino higher education in our state is limited financial resources,” Rodriguez said. “We also know that the number of Latinos in the state and across the country is on the rise and we must be prepared to serve that segment of the population.”

U.S. Census 2010 data showed that Georgia's Latino population doubled in the past 10 years, reaching more than 865,000 and representing just less than 9 percent of the state's total population. Armstrong is positioning itself to be one of the leading institutions in the state to provide education opportunities for this growing population.

“One of the best ways to help Latinos or any other group is to provide access to higher education, which in turn benefits our communities and the region in the long term. Our focus over the past eight years has been to identify students whose stories and academic accomplishments demonstrate their potential to develop into educated professionals capable of giving back to their community,” Rodriguez said.

In recent years, Armstrong's undergraduate Latino population has steadily risen to the current 5.2 percent (fall 2010). In comparison, the Hispanic/Latino population in fall 2007 was 3.7 percent and 2.7 percent in fall 2003. The number of Hispanic/Latino students applying to Armstrong is also on the rise. In early May, data showed that undergraduate applications for the fall 2011 semester included 329 from Hispanic/Latino students, or 7.2 percent of all applications.

Sandra Valencia, who is of Colombian descent, graduated magna cum laude in May 2008 with a degree in radiologic sciences after receiving scholarship support. The following fall she was hired as a bilingual registered diagnostic medical sonographer by Beaufort Memorial Hospital in Beaufort, S.C. She competed for the job with more than 50 other job applicants. Today she works directly with patients, including many Latinos. Her father, an auto mechanic, and her stay-at-home mother were not able to help her with college tuition. Valencia and her twin sister graduated together and both benefited from scholarships.

“The scholarships I received were essentially the help that I needed,” she said. “Without that help I would not have been able to attend college. I am very thankful to Armstrong for the opportunities that they give all Latinos so that we can move ahead.”

Maribel Gomez also received scholarships during her undergraduate years at Armstrong. A single mother with no family support in Savannah, she enrolled at Armstrong full-time and worked a full-time job until earning her bachelor's in political science in 2008. Although she only received scholarship assistance for one year, at Armstrong she found the support she needed.

“One of the things that helped me the most was the family atmosphere that we enjoyed as a group of students,” she said. “We were all very close and Melody gave us 100 percent of her time.” Gomez went on to earn a master's in adult education and community leadership from Armstrong and is currently working as a Spanish teacher at Woodville Tompkins Technical & Career Institute, a unit of Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.

“HOLA helped me a great deal my first year at Armstrong,” she said. “It made a big difference and allowed me to continue my education while working a full-time job.”

Rodriguez, who serves on the Board of Savannah's Latin American Service Organization and is a corporate Board member of YMCA of Coastal Georgia, sees Armstrong as playing a growing role in Hispanic/Latino education across the region.

“Our goal is to continue to provide an excellent education for all students, while at the same time become a regional leader in offering opportunities for deserving Latino students who choose to come to Armstrong,” Rodriguez said.