The sounds of Flamenco guitar cascaded off walls and mingled with the smells of traditional Latin American cuisine Thursday as faculty, staff and students celebrated the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
At USF, Hispanics comprise 11 percent of the student body – an increase of 8.2 percent from the 2005 school year.
According to Leonor O’Relly, coordinator of continuing education and chair of the Latinos Association, there’s still room for improvement.
“To see the growth, especially for undergraduates, and that we are doing a good job recruiting is positive,” O’Relly said. “What we need to work on is retaining students. Graduation rates need to be as high as the (undergraduate enrollment) rates.”
Rod Hale, coordinator of academic support services for graduate studies, said he was more optimistic about graduation rates.
“We went back about seven years and looked at the retention rates of our programs,” Hale said. “We found out that they have an 82 percent (retention) rate. Now if you look at that in relation to the national retention rate for graduate students you have to understand that is an incredible number.”
The growth is not limited to students, as USF hired 77 new Hispanic faculty and staff members and promoted 15 Hispanic employees last year.
USF President Judy Genshaft spoke at the event and said she was confident in USF’s growth, citing a study from the Princeton Review that ranks USF as the 18th-most diverse university in the nation.
“One of the suggestions for a slogan for USF is, ‘We’re the University with the Global Edge.’ You help make it so,” Genshaft said.
“What is education all about?” she said. “It’s about respect, enrichment, understanding and having an appreciation of one another, each other’s cultures, each other’s customs, and to me it’s very, very exciting to see events like Hispanic Heritage Month.”
This was the crux of the event, which celebrated the achievements of Latino faculty, staff, students and graduates by giving out “heritage awards” for outstanding achievement.
Serving as USF’s official start to National Hispanic Heritage Month, the event is the first of 21 to be held on campus. Although National Hispanic Month ends nationwide at the end of October, USF will continue celebrating well into November.
The festivities include a wide range of activities. On Oct. 19, a lecture titled “Facilitating Access to Human Services and Supports for Latino Families” will be held, which stands in glaring contrast to Salsaween held on Oct. 27. Salsaween will be a traditional Latin Halloween party featuring various types of Latin music and dance.
A full calendar of events can be found by going to http://www.usf.edu/index.asp and selecting the Hispanic Heritage Calendar link.