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Event connects students to college resources

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Greetings in English and Spanish welcomed dozens of students and their families at James Sprunt Community College on Nov. 30 for a special event with East Carolina University designed to connect students with resources and information for taking the next step in their educational journeys. 

“Let’s Connect,” a pilot program from ECU, allows the university to partner with community colleges to inform local students of opportunities both ECU and their local community college can provide while introducing them to students and faculty members.

“I think that coming here, they’re going to make some connections that I’m sure would not be made if they were not here,” said Jay Carraway, president of James Sprunt Community College. 

James Sprunt Community College is located in rural Duplin County, which has a significant Hispanic and Latino population – 23.9% of its residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to the most recent U.S. Census. To make the event more accessible for students and their families, the event was bilingual. 

“A collaboration like this is something big. It’s huge, especially when they’re doing it in Spanish and English, so that the parents know, because it’s a family affair,” said Flor Juarez Diaz, director of James Sprunt Community College’s Centro Educativo Latino. 

This event is one way that some community colleges in North Carolina are working to better serve Latinx populations. Lenoir, James Sprunt, Wayne, and Sampson community colleges each received $250,000 from the Anonymous Trust to provide recruitment, training, and support for Latinx students.  

Diaz said James Sprunt Community College’s Centro Educativo Latino helps serve students and their families by connecting documented and undocumented students alike to resources and funding for their education, as well as cultural events. 

The center helps to provide classes in English and Spanish at various times to cater to the students’ lifestyles, Diaz said.

Diaz said the center also seeks to collaborate with and cater to a student’s whole family, providing information to Spanish-speaking families in their native language and taking the burden of translating off students.

At Thursday’s event, students and families got the chance to listen to a presentation about what both ECU and James Sprunt Community College offer students while learning about the application process, financial aid, and future career opportunities. 

The presentation also discussed the benefits of postsecondary education, such as stable careers, higher salaries, and increased social mobility. 

Participants could attend break out sessions and visit informational tables to learn more.

Hallways were packed as participants roamed from table to table to speak to students and faculty from both colleges to forge connections and discover more about college life and programs. 

“Most of the things that happen in life are not done in a vacuum. We all need assistance. We all need to build relationships,” Carraway said.

Accessibility remains critical, especially in rural communities like Duplin County, Carraway said, and bringing ECU representatives and college information to students in their own communities is beneficial to take away the potential burden of travel.

“Sometimes the hassle of going to a big campus can be a little overwhelming,” Carraway said.

Carraway said he hoped the students attending the event were able to walk away more prepared and informed on possibilities to continue their education.

“It’s not too big to achieve,” Carraway said. 

Carraway said the event also allows James Sprunt Community College to showcase what it offers to the community. Its enrollment has been increasing for the past four years, he said. 

“This is just another example of some of the things we try to do to reach out and get our students to make those connections,” Carraway said. “I think we’re called upon to do all we can to help our students succeed, not only when they’re here, but when they leave.” 

Let’s Connect was designed by Rich Klindworth, a doctoral candidate and public communications specialist at ECU, who started the program in Greene County as part of his dissertation.

Let’s Connect was previously held for Wayne County at Wayne Community College on Nov. 16. Let’s Connect will be held at Sampson Community College on Feb. 15 2024, at Pitt Community College on Feb. 29 2024, and at Lenoir Community College on March 14, 2024.

Editor’s Note: The Anonymous Trust supports the work of EducationNC.