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Ensuring Hispanic students have representation

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Kevin Curiel-Vazquez is the External Affairs Director of the Grand Rapids Community College Student Alliance and works hard to set an example for fellow Hispanic students.

Curiel, 25, is from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and moved to Grand Rapids 17 years ago when he was 8. And while his childhood went smoothly, he remembers that things really got challenging once he graduated high school and started thinking of college.

“As a first-generation college student, there are resources that you don’t have,” Curiel said. “Nobody is going to tell you how to do college. Nobody is going to tell you how to do it, or how to do it right. Your parents can’t do a lot for you, and you have to pave your own path and figure it out by yourself.”

As a Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) Student, Curiel has a green card, and is allowed to go to school and work in the United States, however he is not eligible to receive federal financial aid or scholarships to do so. This can make completing college almost impossible due to busy, fulltime work and class schedules.

Curiel has been a student at GRCC for six years, attending part-time, taking one or two classes at a time as he can afford them. After his first couple of years, Curiel noticed a lack of Hispanic student involvement, and decided to take action and provide an ex- ample in his community. He began to work with the Hispanic Student Organization, and doors started to open for him. He saw the growing Hispanic population here at GRCC, and wanted to encourage other Hispanic students to continue with school and recog- nize the benefits of having an education.

“This year was the first year that Hispanic students were the highest minority in GRCC, so this is where I saw a good opportunity,” Curiel said. “This year alone they are putting a lot of attention on the Hispanic students. While more of them are coming in, [we’re focused on] how are we going to make sure they succeed, and how are we going to bring them to GRCC, and how are we going to make sure that they get the credentials that they need.”

Curiel’s days are busy, working mornings at Costco, spending afternoons fulfilling his responsibilities to the Student Alliance and attending class, and working on homework at the end of his day. Despite having a very busy schedule, he is happy to just have the opportunity to get an education.

Curiel is studying architecture, and is very passionate about the “Green Movement.” He hopes to go to the University of Michigan, which is the only four-year university in Michigan that provides financial aid to DACA students. This has motivated him to improve his grades and to get more involved here at GRCC.

Curiel’s advice to DACA students who are attempting to get an education is to not get discouraged.

“Because our situation is very delicate and unique, the most important thing is to let people hear your story, hear your voice,” Curiel said. “Go out there, start getting more involved. The more you get involved, that’s when the doors start opening for you. That’s when you realize that there is support for DACA students, and there is support to help us go through school, but that’s not going to happen if we just wait for that opportu- nity to come to us. You can’t really wait for a miracle to happen, you’ve got to be the miracle, and go out there and really take action and personal responsibility for your future.”