Latino students interested in pursuing higher education can benefit from the services offered in Counseling Latinos for Equity and Engagement at Orange Coast College.

Currently, only 2 percent of Latinos have a doctorate degree — a number that is out of proportion with the entire Latino demographic in the United States, according to CLEEO founder, coordinator and counselor Eric Cuellar.

“We’re trying to encourage Latinas and Latinos not only to reach their goal of transferring and obtaining their bachelor’s degrees, but really encouraging them to go onto postgraduate school to complete master’s and doctorate programs. As well as professional degrees such as going to medical school or law school,” Cuellar said.

In its fourth semester at OCC, the CLEEO project aims to create equitable access to higher education for a historically disadvantaged segment of society. The project also helps create cross-cultural awareness through workshops and presentations.

“One main purpose of why we bring on multicultural speakers and things is to really help our students identify and to make a paradigm shift in their way of thinking,” Rendell Drew, co-chair of the International Multicultural Committee said.

Workshop topics and speakers vary each semester. Presentations this semester covered the roles of language, power, culture, identity formation, and academic success through the perspective of a first-generation Latino college student.

Speakers are brought from CSUs, UCs and private universities.

“I’ve learned about micro-aggressions and how different ethnicities and races experience racism. I’ve learned how many underrepresented minorities have struggled through their college experience,” Elvin Martinez, an 18-year-old political science major said.

Martinez discovered CLEEO through Cuellar’s counseling class, a course that explores successful experiences in higher education for Chicano and Latino students.

 After learning more about his culture and ancestry, Martinez was inspired to start his own club, Nahui Ollin. A club focused on allowing under-represented minorities explore routes for college success.

“For the Latina and Latino community, higher education is something that is valued, and is something that we continue to strive and aspire towards completing,” Cuellar said. “For the benefit of not just our own communities, but society at large.”

After attending a youth conference at San Diego State University while he was in high school, Cuellar opened his eyes to the possibility of going to college. Cuellar felt his bi-cultural background validated by the university’s workshops and wanted to extend that opportunity to other students.

CLEEO workshops take place in the Multicultural Center every semester, and anyone interested in learning is welcome to attend.

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