By Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaJesus Mata knows his family isn’t a typical Hispanic family inGeorgia. That’s one reason he volunteers with a new program thaturges Hispanic students to stay in high school and enroll incollege.Mata is a second-generation college graduate and a native ofMexico. His daughter, Sofia, is a freshman at Princeton. A web designer with the University of Georgia College ofAgricultural and Environmental Sciences, Mata is part of a teamof UGA volunteers spreading the word about the value of educationto Hispanic students and their parents. Sharing personal experiencesSharing their experiences helped the students realize thatearning a college degree is something they can do. Mata pointedthem to his daughter’s success.”I made sure the parents and students I talked with understoodthat colleges look for students who not only have good SAT scoresbut are involved in their communities,” he said. “I told themthat Hispanic students actually have an advantage in that most ofthem speak two languages.”Most of the parents that Mata met knew nothing about thescholarships and grants minority students can get. But most, likeother parents, want their children to have better lives than theydo.”It’s sad that Latinos in the United States want to make moremoney for their families, but they don’t know how,” said PatriciaTorres, a UGA research technician, native of Peru and volunteer.”Many Latinos in the United States work on farms doing manuallabor,” she said. “The ones who are parents want their childrento study more and get an education so they can betterthemselves.” Reaching Hispanic studentsUGA parasitologist Ynes Ortega started the project with a grantfrom the University System of Georgia.”The University System realizes we need to reach Hispanicstudents and encourage them to finish high school and attendcollege,” said Ortega, a native of Peru.With the grant funds, Ortega developed magnets, pencils, postersand other printed materials used in information sessions withHispanic students and their parents. The materials are printed inboth English and Spanish.”A common thread among Hispanics is their Catholic faith,” Ortegasaid. “So we chose to reach the students through their churches.”On weekends, the volunteers visited three Catholic churcheswithin 30 miles of the UGA Griffin campus. They put posters ineach church lobby with information about the program, meetingtimes and places.Rob Shewfelt, a UGA undergraduate advisor, food scientist and theonly non-Hispanic member of the group, told about UGA admissionrequirements. The others explained why earning a high schooldiploma and secondary degree is so important. Improving future generationsTorres hopes that by meeting with Hispanic students and parents,the UGA volunteers can help make a difference in their lives.”It’s hard to convince someone they need to change. They have towant to do it for themselves,” she said. “But keeping these kidsin school is important for them. And it’s important for allLatino people.”The meetings uncovered two groups of Hispanic students. The firstwere either born in the United States or have lived here most oftheir lives. They speak fluent English and plan to finish highschool and possibly attend college.”Unfortunately, this is the smaller of the two groups,” Ortegasaid. “The other group consists of recently emigrated Hispanicstudents with limited knowledge of English. If they did decide toattend college, their legal status would prohibit them fromenrolling and obtaining financial aid.”This group is more challenging, Ortega said.The goal of this program is to promote the idea of attendingcollege, not just UGA. “The spirit is to have themfinish high school and go to college,” she said.Although the grant funds end this summer, the group plans tocontinue until their printed materials run out.