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Sac State, one of the nation’s most diverse campuses, shines during Hispanic Heritage Month

As Sac State celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, the University, for the second time, has earned a Seal of Excelencia certification, which reflects an institution’s demonstrated impact on students. Members of the campus community attended a watch party Friday, Sept. 29, for the announcement, which took place in Washington, D.C. (Sacramento State/Lanaya Lewis)

With more than a third of its students identifying as Latino, Sacramento State is cementing its reputation as one of the country’s top institutions for Hispanic students.

As it celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, the University once again has earned a coveted Seal of Excelencia certification, highlighting its commitment to programs and policies that uplift Latino scholars. Sac State received its first certification, which spans three years, in 2020.

Across the U.S., 39 colleges and universities now have the Seal, presented by Excelencia in Education, a national group focused on college completion for Latinos. The Seal reflects an institution’s demonstrated impact on students through data, leadership practices, and programs.

Sac State, with one of the most diverse student populations in the nation, became a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in 2015. The designation has brought millions of dollars in funding for programs including Project INSPIRE, which is focused on increasing graduation rates.

The Seal of Excelencia.
The Seal of Excelencia. (Courtesy Erik Ramirez)

The University offers other programs that support Hispanic students, including the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), the Serna Center, and the Dreamer Resource Center (DRC). The DRC offers academic and financial assistance as well as legal and emotional support to students as they navigate their uncertain immigration status.

Sac State has publicly advocated for undocumented students and called for comprehensive immigration reform, but the status of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remains murky amid continuing court challenges.

The Seal of Excelencia, announced Friday, reaffirms the University’s commitment to the success of all its students, said Chino Chapa, a spokesman for Excelencia in Education.

“This is a prestigious certification,” he said. The Seal identifies institutions as “trendsetters and national leaders” that are dedicated to enrolling and graduating students who in the past have been underserved by colleges.

Sac State President Luke Wood said the Seal represents a blueprint for “what we must do to better serve our Latine students in the years to come.”

“The continued partnership with Excelencia is critical to our work to transform the lives of our Latine students for generations,” he said.

Wood and others gathered in the Global Lounge on Friday morning for a watch party as Excelencia announced its recertification. Provost Carlos Nevarez represented the University in Washington, D.C., for the announcement.

“Sac State views our commitment to serve our Latine students as a moral and ethical obligation,” Nevarez said, as the watch party audience cheered. The University has seen a huge increase in graduation rates for all students, including Hispanics, by removing “institutional barriers” and addressing equity gaps, he said.

Nevarez announced that Sac State soon will add an HSI director to its administration.

One of Sac State’s newest endeavors is a collaborative effort with other universities to support Hispanic students who are interested in studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.

The UNIDOS Center for Community Collaboration, funded with a $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will be housed at Florida International University. Sac State is among four other Hispanic Serving Institutions that will work with the Florida campus to help advance STEM education among Latino students.

“The continued partnership with Excelencia is critical to our work to transform the lives of our Latine students for generations."

-- Sacramento State President Luke Wood

The grant will fund workshops, conferences, and a website that will allow colleges and universities across the country to collaborate and share ideas for helping Hispanic students excel in STEM education.

Kelly McDonald, a Sac State Biology professor and director of the University’s Center for Science and Math Success, said she looks forward to helping to lead the UNIDOS effort.

“As a teaching-centric, predominantly undergraduate Hispanic Serving Institution within one of the largest educational systems in the nation, we bring a vital perspective and a wealth of expertise to this initiative,” McDonald said. “I am eager to engage with and learn from fellow Hispanic Serving Institutions to enhance the experiences we provide students on our campus.”

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through Oct. 15, Sac State will continue to host events that highlight the contributions, histories and cultures of those who identify as Hispanic or Latino.

The University’s Green & Gold Speaker Series featured an interactive workshop and concert by Las Cafeteras on Sept. 26, and a Latin-themed cooking demonstration at The WELL on Sept. 28.

Still to come: a virtual forum on “What does it mean to be a HSI?” on Oct. 2; a Chicanx and Latinx Studies program panel discussion on Oct. 5; and the annual Feria de Educacion on Oct. 7 in the University Union.

More information about these events and others can be found on the Hispanic Heritage Month web page.

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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