Through the RHiTA program at Walters State, Hispanic students have opportunities to engage with state and local leaders. Above, prior to the pandemic, students in the program are seen engaging with Tennessee District 10 Representative Rick Eldridge.

The Hispanic population is growing in Tennessee, and at Walters State Community College in Morristown, we have worked diligently to build a program  — Recruiting Hispanics to Achieve (RHiTA) — to support Hispanic students.

Our work began in earnest in 2018, kickstarted by a Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) Student Engagement, Retention, and Success (SERS) grant. Now, we are proud that SCORE’s Higher Ed By The Numbers report reveals:

Walters State had the highest Hispanic student persistence rate of any Tennessee community college.”

Components of RHiTA include welcoming and engaging Hispanic students through individualized contact, freshman mentoring, and on-campus programming. It also involves opportunities for students to engage in community outreach, like speaking — in English or Spanish — to school and community groups about their college experiences. Faculty mentors provide an additional level of support to students by sending follow-up messages based on the school’s early alert system reports.

For our sophomore leadership team, we provide leadership development through visits to immigrant-serving agencies, tours to local businesses and industries, and dialogue with leaders like Morristown City Mayor Gary Chesney. Giving these students the opportunity to interact at Kiwanis and Rotary club meetings or the local Chamber of Commerce builds confidence and helps students establish professional networks. We feature leadership team stories to inspire our current students and bring in alumni to share their stories of transferring to a four-year institution.

Ensuring equity in educational attainment, especially for historically underserved groups, has recently become a focus in state goals. Maybe your institution is asking you to think along these lines? According to the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, non-Whites will make up 33.9 percent of the Tennessee population by 2040, and the Hispanic population is expected to be 10.3 percent of that.

Through RHiTA partnerships with school systems and organizations that serve the Hispanic community, our efforts on campus have earned us the respect and support of the Hispanic community. We have learned that dominant culture mindsets don’t usually get the job done. Being cognizant and respectful of differing cultural approaches, especially regarding communication, has contributed to keeping Hispanic students in the pipeline and supporting them to graduation.

Just like By The Numbers points out the high student persistence rate for Hispanic students at Walters State, the data in this report can reveal what is — or isn’t — working at your institution. This report is an opportunity for us to continue doing what is working and find areas where we can improve. Our students are depending on us to give them every opportunity for career and life success.

Michelle “Miki” Mitrik, is associate professor of Spanish, ESL Coordinator, and faculty lead for RHiTA at Walters State Community College.