As freshmen coming to Florida State University, Nicole Alvarado, Maximo Valdes and Javier Puebla were unsure of where their time at FSU would take them or where they would find their sense of community on campus.
They’ve found a home away from home through the Hispanic/Latinx Student Union (HLSU), one of seven agencies under the Student Government Association, where they all now serve on the organization’s executive board and help other students find their place.
“I wanted to be involved in HLSU leadership because it’s an opportunity to represent and advocate for the Hispanic/Latinx community on campus,” said Alvarado, director of the HLSU. “This community signifies a lot to me, and it is my overall goal to continue providing a safe space and educate others about the significance and importance of our culture.”
The HLSU is dedicated to unifying, informing and serving the Hispanic/Latinx community on and off campus. They host regular events to foster community and share Hispanic/Latinx culture and heritage. The group hosted several events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, with the theme “Recordando Nuestras Raíces – Relembrando Nossas Raízes,” which translates to “Remembering Our Roots.”
This community signifies a lot to me, and it is my overall goal to continue providing a safe space and educate others about the significance and importance of our culture.
– Nicole Alvarado, director of the Hispanic/Latinx Student Union
“Our student leaders help build stronger communities on our campus around the interests and identities that are important to them and other students,” said Amy Hecht, vice president for student affairs. “Student success is found both in and out of the classroom and FSU. The Division of Student Affairs and our partners work to ensure all students can find communities on campus that support them and their interests.”
The three student leaders, who are also all first-generation students, credit FSU’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) for helping them successfully navigate college life.
CARE provides preparation, orientation and academic support for students who are among the first in their families to attend college and may face unique challenges.
“As a first-generation college student born to Cuban and Nicaraguan parents, the idea of college wasn’t something that was always attainable or realistic for me,” said Valdes, HLSU assistant director. “I simply did not know what steps to take to get to where I wanted.”
Alvarado (CARE ’20), Valdes (CARE ’20) and Puebla (CARE ’21) participated in the CARE Summer Bridge Program, a seven-week experience for first generation students to help them transition to FSU. The program offers a mix of academic and student development experiences that supports participants’ success throughout their time at FSU and beyond.
“CARE is the whole reason I’m at FSU,” Puebla, HLSU’s treasurer, said. “Dr. (DeOnte) Brown and everyone within CARE are very supportive and reassuring, which helps create a sense of home. I love CARE and will always advocate for it.”
Brown, director of CARE and assistant dean of Undergraduate Studies, said the trio’s leadership and campus involvement is a reminder that all students need to feel a sense of belonging.
“CARE may be the first time that students feel a sense of community at FSU, and we are proud of the fact that it isn’t the only area of belonging within our community,” Brown said. “The more connected students feel, the greater the likelihood that they will engage to have an impact on campus and achieve their academic goals.”
Overall, Alvarado, Valdes and Puebla say their leadership roles and involvement on campus have allowed them to provide the same welcoming community they have found at FSU.
“Just as CARE has played a vital role in my college career, HLSU has become a home away from home for me and many other students,” Valdes said. “I am proud that we work to foster the same safe, nurturing, and welcoming community that took me in a little over a year ago today. I truly mean it when I say that I don’t know where I would be without HLSU and the many amazing people I have met through our agency.”
For students looking to get involved in a leadership role on campus, Alvarado, Valdes and Puebla recommend getting out of your comfort zone and attending events to get to know people and organizations.
FSU students are encouraged to stop by El Centro, the HLSU space located on the third floor of the Student Union, where they can study, relax and meet others within the Hispanic/Latinx community.