Dr. Carlos Alemán is an associate professor at the School of Communication Studies, and one of only eight professors in the university with an appointment as a JMU Professor in Residence (PIR) http://www.jmu.edu/pir/about.html. The PIR program is sponsored by the Office of the Special Assistant to the President at JMU in order to promote educational attainment and college aspirations of Virginia high school students.
Through his PIR appointment at Thomas Harrison Middle School, Dr. Alemán is able to develop and support outreach programs and activities that focus on student populations that have historically lacked opportunities for attending colleges. Once day, while stopping for a cup of coffee, he met a local high school teacher and a community organizer who were just getting started with a brand new outreach organization called the Shenandoah Valley Scholars Latino Initiative (in short: SV-SLI). Three months later, Dr. Alemán was invited to the SV-SLI Board of Directors, and began serving as the SV-SLI University Coordinator of Mentoring and Academic Programs.
Dr. Alemán’s story was featured in the JMU news article : Latino initiative pairs Centennial Scholars, high-school students. The article featured SV-SLI and its partnership with the Centennial Scholars, which is a JMU sponsored program to fund qualified and deserving students from low socio-economic backgrounds to attend college. We wanted to acknowledge this great accomplishment from our very own faculty member.
I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Alemán and asked him a couple questions regarding SV-SLI. Throughout the interview, I could feel his passion and love for these students. Dr. Alemán lives far from his Mexican-American family, most of who reside in the same small town where he grew up in California. But through the relationships that he’s built with the Latino students of SV-SLI, he feels he is connected to his own family.
1. What are some difficulties you have faced so far as this program is a fairly young program (established in Spring ’12)?
There’s always a need of constant awareness of a political stance at hand, particularly given the current moment in our society. Due to the nature of the program – which includes securing undocumented immigrant students with an opportunity for higher education–there is that underlying risk factor, a political stance, whether it exists consciously or unconsciously. I am always aware of the risk factors that the students and supporters may be facing, and I try my absolute best to respect and protect these opinions at hand.
2. What are some different methods used to spark interest in the students to consider college in their future?
A majority of the students in the program already have a passion to pursue and educate themselves. However, it is sometimes the parents that are harder to convince. Some parents worry about possible consequences of their children being in this program. Once involved in this program, some of their kids are publicly acknowledged to be undocumented, while others may be perceived as undocumented, when they are not. Other times, the parents are worried that their kids will move far away, or forget their cultural identity. In order to earn the trust of the parents, I open up my personal life to these families. I welcome them to my house, introduce them to my family, and everything else about me. I tell them, “Now you know where I live and the family values that I have. You can always find me here if you ever have a concern. ”
3. What is the most satisfying part of being in this program? Once I asked Dr. Alemán this question, his eyes started tearing up.
These kids have become a part of my family. This is the easiest question you’ve asked me so far. The students look up to me, almost as their second parents. I connect with them. They trust me and depend on me. The relationship between us is mutually supportive.
As a student separated from my family, it was extremely inspiring to me to see an active example of someone handling this difficulty. Dr. Alemán really took the initiative to not only satisfy his desire to stay connected with his family, but helping out others as well. He established this program by acknowledging those in needs and took advantage of what he could provide, to really create something magnificent. I was really moved by his passionate personality. It was obvious that he loved what he was doing, which is what I hope to soon pursuit.
Written by: Karen (Ye) Kim