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Partnership Increases Opportunities for Underrepresented Minority Students

students at LAEF event

Western Colorado University believes in inclusivity, accessibility, and the diversification of higher education. As a testament to this commitment, Western is a top sponsor of the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF). The university takes pride in supporting LAEF’s goal to provide information and scholarships to those in the Latin American community.

“It is critical that young people, Latino students in particular, understand the value of earning a college degree,” said Jim Chávez, executive director of the LAEF. “Our foundation is a valuable and trusted voice that helps our Latino and Hispanic students, and their parents, understand that a college degree is attainable.”

A More Educated, Diverse, and Talented Workforce

According to Chávez, the focus of LAEF is to increase the number of Latinos who earn a degree, ensuring that Colorado will have a more educated, diverse, and talented workforce.

This year, LAEF reconvened in person to hold their premier fundraising gala. Though the foundation expected 500 guests to attend the gala, more than 600 arrived. The surprising turnout was surely due to this year’s guest speaker first lady Dr. Jill Biden. Having Biden speak at the gala brought significant visibility to LAEF, but Chávez said her attendance was more than a grab for publicity.

“Dr. Biden’s appearance at our gala really highlights the importance of a college education.  Her comments to our scholars acknowledged that despite challenges, students can overcome, persevere, and achieve their dreams,” said Chávez.

While the gala is a celebration of student scholars’ success, it also serves to raise awareness in the community as there is a continuing need to support and encourage students in their attempts to pursue a college education. Olivia Reinhardt, a Western alumnus who works in the Marketing Department as the university’s photographer, attended the gala and was hopeful at the benefits of the foundation.

“It’s important that prospective students know we support foundations like LAEF,” said Reinhardt. “People need to know that we’re an accepting place to come to school.”

Increasing Access

Western leader Abel Chávez, Ph.D., who is the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success, sits on LAEF’s board and also attended the gala. While Western benefits in publicity from sponsoring the foundation, according to Abel Chávez that’s not why the university stays involved.

“Western’s role is continuing to ensure that we are front and center in the hearts and minds of our families and our students,” said Abel Chávez. “LAEF is a big part of that.”

Giving Back

Considering the shifting demographics of the growing population within the state, Abel Chávez explained that Western’s duty is to play an important role in foundations like LAEF. The student groups that these organizations assist historically are underrepresented in higher education. These groups also retain at 15 to 20 percent lower than their peers. Western takes pride in ensuring all students have equal access to that education.

Before Abel Chávez started his career in secondary learning and sat on the foundation’s board, he himself was a recipient of multiple LAEF scholarships.

“I am so thankful to every donor of LAEF. While today I am a senior higher education executive, the LAEF scholarship, which I received multiple times, was a key source of funding in my undergraduate years,” said Abel Chávez. “LAEF kept me focused on my studies. I am proud to give back to the organization that has been pivotal to my trajectory.”

A Commitment to Inclusivity

Western’s sponsorship of LAEF demonstrates its dedication our institution has to higher education. While it holds merit in both education and philanthropy, the role Western plays in LAEF exemplifies the commitment to inclusivity and accessibility as well. According to Abel Chávez, Western’s participation in the Latin American Educational Foundation demonstrates that the university has, “great humans” who care for other humans.

“Whether students and families select us or not, it’s Western’s duty to be good to the people of Colorado and the region,” he said.

Learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusivity at Western.



Author Credit: Kinlee Whitney

Photo Credit: Olivia Reinhardt

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