Attracting Latinos to the agricultural industry, promoting diversity and higher education and providing a home away from home for students is all in a day’s work for Cal Poly’s Latinos in agriculture club.
“If you look back historically, agriculture has not been high on the list of career opportunities for Latinos,” said club advisor and agricultural education and communication department head Robert Flores. “What many of them remember is field labor (and to their) parents or grandparents, (it) was very hard labor out in the fields.”
The club was started in the 1970s so Latino students interested in agriculture could have a place to come together.
“There were very, very few Latinos in the College of Agriculture,” Flores said. “Many of the students that came here did not exactly feel like they belonged, like Cal Poly was their home.”
Latinos nowadays have a much wider array of career options, something the club encourages, according to Flores.
If you start taking a look at the professional opportunities that are out there for students, we’ve got a lot of businesses and industries that are asking specifically for people that are culturally sensitive and have language skills,” he said. “Many of our students are bi-lingual or somewhat bi-lingual.”
Club Treasurer Megan Giacomazzi attributed the low number of Latino students at Cal Poly to the school’s admission process.
“The way we sort out the process of admissions, it’s more based on SAT scores and on grades versus an essay,” said Giacomazzi, a graduate student studying agricultural education. “(Latinos) often do not have as high SAT scores.”
Giacomazzi added that many of this generation of Latino students are the first in their family to go to college.
“I think a lot of the parents didn’t go off to college so they don’t know the importance of going off to college,” she said.
In order to encourage what Flores called more “brown faces” to come to Cal Poly, Latinos in agriculture holds the 26-hour program, a two-day event geared towards high school students from poor areas.
Club President Noe Gonzales Jr. first came to Cal Poly through the 26-hour program.
“They come to Cal Poly for two days and we take them through a tour through the college of agriculture and the math and science department and we show them.the engineering department, agricultural business, agricultural science and education (to) give them a feel for Cal Poly.”
Gonzales, a bioresource agricultural engineering junior said he wanted the program and the club to inspire the next generation of Latinos in agriculture club members.
“I am living proof that the program works,” he said. “I want to promote overall leadership with them and hopefully as they get older, they want to take my spot and keep the 26-hour program running.”
The club members have a cozy atmosphere at their meetings, starting each one off with a homemade dinner, usually followed by a guest speaker, a professor or an industry professional.
Latinos in agriculture also attends the National Conference of Minorities in Agricultural and Natural Resources.
The conference, held in Indianapolis, provides them with internship workshops and social networking opportunities as well as the chance to compete in public speaking and essay contests.
Despite the name, the club is open to all students, regardless of major or ethnicity. It currently has Latino, Caucasian and Asian members with majors ranging from agricultural business, civil engineering, biomedical to bioresource and agricultural engineering students.
“Nobody checks your card coming in to see what your ethnicity is,” Flores said. “A couple of the officers are not Latinos and for various reasons just enjoy being a part of a service-oriented organization that provides social and then also academic support for students too.”
Gonzales added that skin color does not determine how club members interact with each other.
“We all see each other as equals and there is no one superior over the other one,” he said.
Although she is not Latino, Giacomazzi said she feels at home in the club.
“I like the family feeling the club has,” she said. “It’s like a home away from home type of club. They’re very inclusive and they’re there for the students on campus.”