Annual Latino Visitation Day Breaks Attendance Record
Galloway, N.J. – More than 1,000 students from nearly 30 high schools throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland heard the message loud and clear at Stockton University's annual Latino Visitation Day Nov. 30: if your goal is higher education, you can overcome the obstacles and earn a college degree.
Stockton University ranks seventh in the nation among colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates for Hispanic students and overall minority students, according to a 2022 Chronicle of Higher Education report. In the 2022-23 academic year, 19% of Stockton students identified as Hispanic.
Heather Medina, director of Admissions, was admittedly emotional when she saw the crowd - the largest one yet - of students filing into the Sports Center. Not so long ago, she was a student and member of Los Latinos Unidos, the student organization that started Latino Visitation Day.
“It is just such a joy to see all of these smiling faces today, and we hope that you all consider and choose Stockton. This is our way of saying to you all: Welcome home,” Medina said. “Latino Visitation Day was born when I was a student here and started off with two schools, and today, I’m pleased to say that this is the largest ever in the history of the university.”
Medina introduced Nelida Valentin, chair for Stockton’s Board of Trustees and proud 1986 graduate who was part of the Educational Opportunity Fund program and served as president of Los Latinos Unidos during her time as an undergraduate.
After sharing her journey from a first-generation student to a leader in higher education, Valentin encouraged the crowd to think of their own journeys and what they hope to accomplish.
“You see, I was the first and only in my family to attend college, and when you are the first, there is not a lot to look back on: You just have to move forward. I can tell you unequivocally that my Stockton experience has translated into a lifetime commitment to education and community service. My journey through Stockton University has served as a testament to the transformative power of education, and you too can be on that journey toward transformation,” Valentin said.
In addition to the presentations and campus tours, visiting students had the opportunity to check out different student organizations, such as the new Mexican Student Association, meet current students in Greek Life, and talk to different on-campus resource departments like Career Education and Development and Financial Aid. When students weren’t receiving information, they were dancing to music or playing games like Jenga, cornhole and Mario Kart with the Esports Collegiate Organization.
The students all had very similar responses to the question, "What was your first impression of the campus?"
Participating High Schools
- Absegami High School
- Arthur P. Schalick High School
- Atlantic City High School
- Atlantic County Institute of Technology
- Benjamin Franklin High School
- Bridgeton High School
- Camden Academy Charter High School
- Camden Big Picture Learning Academy
- Camden County Technical School
- Cedar Creek High School
- Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts
- Creative Arts HS
- DCF Regional School (Cherry Hill and Cumberland)
- Eastside High School-Camden NJ
- Egg Harbor Township High School
- Kenderton School
- Lower Cape May Regional High School
- Middle Township High School
- Oakcrest High School
- Olney High School
- Pennsauken High School
- Pleasantville High School
- Spring Garden School
- Trenton Central High School
- West Side High School
- Wildwood High School
- Winslow Township High School
“Big, very nice, very organized. I like that they're actually putting an effort to make it diverse and to make us feel included,” said Caroline Paredez from the Cicely Tyson School for Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange.
“Very lively. Very fun. I just knew right off the bat it would be fun when the music started playing,” Dasha Cruz from Atlantic County Institute of Technology said. “I want to (apply to Stockton). I know there are resources that could help me, so that's what I'm planning to do, and I will take advantage of those resources that are available.”
“It’s big in here. It’s been pretty fun – I like all the tables, like the sororities and fraternities, and learning what they do. I would definitely apply here, probably for engineering or computer science,” Olney High School student Ivan Morales said.
If Paredez, Cruz and Morales do decide to apply to Stockton, they’ll be in excellent company. During their speeches, students Andrea Sandoval and Juan Diego Chaparro Villarreal both discussed the challenges they faced as students and how they managed to overcome through sheer will and wit.
Sandoval, president of the Student Senate, shared in her speech that someone told her father that his three daughters wouldn’t go to college. Now, in addition to Sandoval being on track to graduate next year, her older sisters both graduated from Stockton’s Social Work program, with one becoming an adjunct professor after receiving her master’s degree.
“Boy, did we prove them wrong,” Sandoval said as the crowd erupted in cheers. “I'm a proud bisexual Mexican-American woman, and I want to thank Stockton University for providing me with an environment that's taught me to be proud of my identity and embrace who I am.”
Chaparro Villarreal shared how he came to the United States from Venezuela in 2017 – he was previously undocumented and had only recently received his Social Security number. This allowed him to stay in the country legally but only to work, which limited him from receiving financial aid and educational loans.
“But I am here, aren’t I? I didn't allow my negative situation to take control of my life,” Chaparro Villarreal said. “I got a job with the wonderful office of Student Development, where I work 15 to 20 hours on top of my classes. I became a resident assistant, and now I get housing reimbursed. I started advocating for myself and for others, and I became president of Los Latino Unidos, the largest Latino-based organization on campus. I got on the Student Senate and, very recently, I became a member of the Stockton University Board of Trustees. I found a way because I wanted it bad enough.”
He hopes that, when applying, the students will remember one thing:
“I belong in this university, environment and in higher education, and so do all of you if you want it bad enough. We're meant to be here. You’re all scholars, and I see a lot of potential in front of me. Even if it isn’t Stockton today, I want you to leave knowing that you have the capabilities of becoming an academic, of graduating with the highest honors and the God-given right of pursuing an education.”
Latino Visitation Day Reaches New Heights
November 21, 2022
Galloway, N.J.- More than 800 students from all over New Jersey participated in the largest Latino Visitation Day on Nov. 17.
Students from 24 high schools around the state attended the program, which included an Admissions presentation, campus tours and an opportunity to meet with current students.
Heather Medina, the first Latina director of Admissions in Stockton University’s history, shared the day’s journey from an idea by the student organization Los Latinos Unidos to what it is now, and its purpose.
“Why does this program exist?” Medina asked the crowd. “Because you all are changemakers. You are the folks that we want to see come through our doors and we want to make this possible for you. Querer es poder! If you want it, you can achieve it and you can attain it!”
– Story by Loukaia Taylor
– Photos by Susan Allen