Fort Hays State feels like family after HCI

HCI Take 2

By Randy Gonzales
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- Fort Hays State University's second annual Hispanic College Institute was truly a family affair for two pairs of siblings.

A brother-sister duo and two sisters took part in last week's HCI, a free four-day, on-campus experience for Hispanic high school juniors and seniors interested in going to college. In each case, one sibling was a Fort Hays State student serving as a "lead" or leader, while the other sibling was still in high school. Both sets of siblings came away amazed with their experience, which included a Saturday morning brunch with the participants' parents.

Nephtaly Gomez, who will be a senior at Fort Hays State in the fall, signed up to be a "lead" partly because she thought it would enhance her leadership skills. Once she became involved with her "familia" of high school students, her perspective changed.

"After I saw their reaction to all this, it changed the whole meaning," Gomez said. "It wasn't about me getting skills anymore; it was about seeing how happy all of them were. Now, it's what motivates me -- their happiness, just them being happy."

"I think it's amazing they're offering this for all the high school students," she added. "Seeing how they're having this opportunity from Fort Hays State, it shows that Fort Hays State really cares."

Gomez's younger brother, Luis, a junior-to-be at Ness City High School, was surprised by how much he enjoyed the experience. He said several students in his group weren't that serious about going to college entering the week. At the end, many of them now want to enroll at FHSU.

"My sister encouraged me to come; I really wasn't interested, I thought it would be boring," Luis Gomez said. "It completely changed my mind. It was mind-blowing. I want to come back next year, be a returner."

The Gomez family, which lives in Bazine, will have another sibling at FHSU in the fall. Suzanna Gomez, who graduated last month from Ness City High, plans to be a Tiger. Luis might not be far behind.

"I think they really care, because they show it," Luis said. "Many colleges will say, 'come;' Fort Hays State shows it. They want to motivate us."

Jasmine Hernandez-Garcia was a "lead" at last year's inaugural HCI, and she came back again this summer. Her younger sister, Victoria Lopez, a senior-to-be at Liberal High School, decided to take part in HCI.

"It's been tremendously amazing," Lopez said. "It's been helpful with the applications and looking at the campus. It was so much fun."

Hernandez-Garcia, who will be a junior at FHSU this fall, remembers what it was like to leave Liberal and go to college her freshman year. The Fort Hays State campus continues to grow in diversity, with HCI being a part of making that happen.

"I'm glad I came here," said Hernandez-Garcia, who was looking at attending bigger schools after graduating from Liberal High School. "I never found a university which helped me so much to be a family with them. They try to help you as much as they can. Fort Hays State is a great school, and I'm so glad I came here."

FHSU helped out Lopez by giving her a $500 scholarship in a drawing. Students also competed for scholarships during the week.

"That was really exciting, and I'm grateful for that," Lopez said, adding FHSU is "very high" on her list of colleges.

"It's like, I'm coming here. That's what I want to do," she said.

Just when it was thought the last scholarship was handed out Saturday, Dr. Joey Linn, vice president of student affairs, came forward and made a surprise announcement -- FHSU was going to hand out one more scholarship. Zayra Espinoza, a senior-to-be4 at Manhattan High School, won that $1,000 scholarship. The total amount of scholarships throughout the week was $16,000.

"I am still in shock," Espinoza said. "I was tearing up, almost crying."

Going to college is important for Espinoza.

"I'm going to be the second generation going to college, so I want to make my parents proud, have a better future for myself," she said, adding FHSU is "a huge possibility -- it's my number one."

FHSU is also high up on the list for Adriana Cervantes from Kansas City, Kan., who will be a senior in the fall at Shawnee Mission North High School. She wants to be a special education teacher.

"I like this school because they have really good programs for what I want to do," Cervantes said.

Luis Gomez liked all the activities packed in four days. He appreciated the opportunity to see teachers in classrooms, enabling him to envision being a Fort Hays State student. Gomez also liked the fun activities, such as the lip sync battle the "familias" engaged in Friday evening.

"I think the best thing was they got us together and how we played games and had activities," he said. "They united us, put us together, made us feel those connections."

The week also included inspirational talks from Hispanic Stars - successful Hispanic men and women who shared their stories. There also was a motivational speaker as well as an opportunity for each "familia" to come up with solutions for issues facing the Hispanic community. In addition, there were workshops on everything from public speaking to applying for college and receiving financial assistance.

"The 2017 Hispanic College Institute was a huge success," said Tricia Cline, director of admissions. "Students learned not only about the importance of higher education, but also the next steps they needed to take in order to achieve their goals."

There were 58 high school students in attendance from Kansas and two other states. Nine were returners from last year's HCI.

"I loved seeing the students arrive as strangers on Wednesday and leave as a family. There were a lot of tears shed on Saturday as everyone said their goodbyes," Cline said. "The HCI is a life-changing event for many of these students, as they learned they were admitted to Fort Hays State University and would be able to continue their education right here on campus after high school."

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