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Stronger Houston: Lone Star College program accelerating Latino student success

Milton Moody grabbed a ring box sized battery and secured it to the back of a camera in a supply room no larger than a closet.  A full charge confirmed, Moody marched into a studio, and straight toward a tripod.

“I can get a lot of experience with cameras, editing,” Moody, 19, declared, using his hand to swipe wayward curls from his brow.

Moody might make movies someday.  He fancied himself an amateur producer during his high school days in Georgia.  However, these days amateur is a prefix no more to describe Moody’s bearings.  He’s enrolled as a student at Lone Star College North Harris and his campus job doubles as an internship.  Moody edits video lectures, designs vivid graphics to make them more visually appealing to students, and he records various events on campus through the Multimedia Studio.  He’s found home amidst the big lights of big production.

“I’m happy here and I kinda, sorta, want to do this in the future, but more advanced, of course,” Moody said.

Moody’s internship, the videos he records and edits, along with all the equipment he uses for production are part of a program administrators at Lone Star College North Harris developed to fix a problem.

It’s called Mi Casa Es Su Casa and three years in, the school says it’s working.

“It promotes that sense of belong here and we all have value that we’re bringing to the classroom and that made the difference; so, you’re still taking the same classes but the approach is different,” said Dr. Laura Yannuzzi, vice president of instruction, Lone Star College North Harris.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa began in 2017 through a conversation of ideas over how to improve graduation and retention rates among the college’s Hispanic students.

“One of the things that became evident was that our Hispanic students weren’t having the success we wanted them to have,” Dr. Yannuzzi said.

But in addressing that problem, college administrators noticed they weren’t talking to students about where they felt their college experience fell short.  Moreover, administrators discovered once they began that dialogue many of their Hispanic students had large responsibilities aside from school.

“We know the majority of our students are Hispanic.  The majority of our students go part-time.  They go part-time because most of them have jobs and family responsibilities.  So, we knew all those things, but until I really know YOU how can I really support you on your journey,” Dr. Yannuzzi addressed as a core disconnect in engaging students.

Thus, other key question emerged that led to developing a plan toward getting answers.

“What are their dreams but also their struggles and then being able to devise support systems here at the institution to help them with all of those things,” she continued.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa combines academic tutoring support with peer counseling, internships through the Multimedia Center, one-on-one advisement with professors, and other programs designed to build community in hopes of generating success.

The program is funded by a $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education Title V grant.

“The faculty have a vested interest in bettering themselves for the betterment of their students and that’s made a huge difference, as well,” Dr. Yannuzzi said, adding their approach “promotes that sense of belong here and we all have value that we’re bringing to the classroom and that made the difference; so, you’re still taking the same classes but the approach is different.”

The approach appears to be working.

Lone Star College North Harris reported data from Fall 2019 that showed 68% of students in Mi Casa Es Su Casa returned to the college for a second year.

The school’s overall average was 50%, according to data released by the college.

Three-year transfer rates have increased, as well, on average of about ten percentage points since the 2016-17 school year.

“The individual course success rates have gone up.  The retention rate, semester-to-semester has gone up.  Graduation rates have gone up. Everything has improved,” Dr. Yannuzzi said.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa received national recognition this month for its success.  Excelencia in Education, an organization focused on improving access to education for the Latino community, awarded Lone Star College North Harris as its 2020 Example of Excelencia.

Daniela Tapia, a student who majors in Biomedical Science, said the program has succeeded at better connecting students from the Hispanic community to college and keeping them there.  Most students enrolled at Lone Star College’s North Harris campus grew up and still live in north Harris County.  Tapia, a member of student government, said the local connection helped her and other students embrace college life.

“I feel like there’s a lot of students like me who are very – not scared of the world – but just need that extra push to get out there and that’s what I needed,” Tapia said.

Shyness is a quality Tapia said most described her before Lone Star College.  She said fellow students, now friends, helped her shake that off – it’s also helped her confidence as she completes her coursework at Lone Star, in hopes of transferring to a four-year-school.  After that – medical school is on the horizon.

“The faculty here and staff really do care about [students'] education and they want to help them grow,” Tapia said with a smile.