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Student's Project 'Closes Gaps'

Bernice Strauss and Jose Barrera
Bernice Strauss is very proud of student Jose Barrera's work.

Procrastinating, skipping class, and making excuses--some college students do enough to just barely get by.

Even so, there are some that go well beyond their call of duty.

One such student is Jose Barrera.

Barrera, a senior psychology major, has taken a school project and turned it into a personal mission. Barrera is currently enrolled in Bernice Strauss's Psychology of Women class, a class that studies issues plaguing minority women in education. As a requirement for the class, each student must apply what they learn in the classroom to real life, through a community project.

Strauss, professor and director of the counseling center, feels this requirement is an important part of the curriculum, explaining, "The classroom has to extend its borders. Information learned is useless unless it is applied."

For his assignment, Barrera decided to work with the Hispanic minority group at Huntsville High School. His goal was to encourage the students to pursue a form of higher education while establishing a healthy relationship with each student.

Barrera introduced himself to a group of 14 Hispanic students working on a homecoming parade float one Saturday at the school. Through an afternoon of observation and interaction, Barrera "got to learn a little about each student."

The development of individual relationships laid the groundwork for Barrera to begin his study of how to approach these kids with the subject of college.

"Most of these students felt that college was not for them. High school was a big goal of these students and they were not encouraged to pursue higher education," explained Barrera.

Barrera, a first generation college student himself, felt immediately connected with these students. "I felt just like they did in high school," said Barrera. "But I want to show them that college is an option. I'm here and they can be too."

Barrera speaks to the students twice weekly as a friend and offers practical advice from someone who can relate to them. He has gotten additional information for students outside of class ranging from university admission requirements to immigration paperwork.

Barrera's work is in line with "Closing the Gaps," a statewide initiative directed toward increasing minority enrollment in higher education.

The students Barrera currently works with are those enrolled in ESL (English as a Second Language) or the high school seminar period, a class where students have extra opportunity to study and hear special presentations. He is also working with Huntsville High to setup a college information class for parents.

"If I can help just one student, I feel that my time has been worthwhile," stated Barrera.

Huntsville High School Nurse Dalia Harrelson has worked with Barrera and says his work has already begun to change the attitudes of students.

"It is remarkable to see the impact this young man is having on some of the students. I got so excited when one of the young women he had talked to came to me asking for help in preparation to enroll in college; a dream she never considered to be possible for her."

Teachers at Huntsville High contend that some of the students Barrera works with have more confidence, greater pride, and attentiveness in class due to their interaction with Jose.

"Personal experience is powerful," explained Strauss. Students need role models who can understand where they are coming from. "He's gone well beyond the requirements of the class."

Barrera currently works with over 30 students. His work has prompted LuAnn Helms and Nathalie Menendes, Counseling Center staff members, to also work with minorities at Huntsville High School. They visit the school each Thursday afternoon with special presentations.

Through sharing his time and talents, Barrera's work has made his academic class more memorable. "The students are very eager to listen. I just regret that this project didn't start earlier."

Barrera will graduate from SHSU this December and while he is unsure if he will be able to continue mentoring the kids, he encourages others to get involved. He feels his service has given back to the community as well as enriched his own life.

"This group has really bonded with him. This is the kind of spontaneous event programs everywhere are trying to duplicate," said Strauss.

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Audrey Wick
October 31, 2001
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