By Steve Nakata, Division of Student Affairs

More than 150 students and family members are registered to participate in Washington State University Pullman’s La Bienvenida, a virtual orientation session designed specifically for Spanish-speaking first-year students and their families. The program is part of the university’s slate of summer Alive Orientation programs and will span three evenings beginning on Friday, May 21.

The La Bienvenida planning team worked with the Office of New Student Programs (NSP) to integrate the program into Alive. Although NSP has had a longstanding connection with the program since it began in 2008, its direct involvement with planning decreased several years ago. Marcela Pattinson, assistant director for community relations and outreach in the Division of Student Affairs, said the renewed collaboration is strengthening La Bienvenida in several important ways.

“New Student Programs is handling the registration process and helping out with program logistics,” Pattinson said. “But most importantly, students attending La Bienvenida can receive academic advising and make plans to register for classes, making it unnecessary for them to attend another Alive session as they did in the past.”

NSP Director Kelly Alvarado-Young said under Pattinson’s leadership, La Bienvenida has grown into a nationally recognized leader in Spanish-language orientation programs. By delivering content in Spanish, including family members in the program, and building community through an equity lens, La Bienvenida sets itself apart from similar programs.

Alvarado-Young said the partnership between La Bienvenida and NSP highlights the importance of providing an orientation program for the Latinx community that speaks their language, literally and figuratively.

“The new streamlined process of having students attend La Bienvenida normalizes a Spanish-language orientation as being a primary program and not an add-on,” Alvarado-Young said.

Making key connections

Most of La Bienvenida’s participants come from rural farm communities in Washington State where poverty is very prevalent. Pattinson said the program’s first workshop addresses one of biggest concerns for these families – knowing how to finance a college education and understanding the financial aid process.

Because undocumented students are ineligible for federal financial assistance, students and families with this status will learn specific strategies for saving money, locating available financial resources, and utilizing university support services.

For the students and families who participate in La Bienvenida, knowing what support services exist, how those services can help them, and which staff members understand their culture, unique challenges, and language will be key to their success at WSU. La Bienvenida has created opportunities for participants to get to know those staff members and discuss with them everything from how WSU supports students from migrant and undocumented families to academic resources and campus life.

Pattinson said one of the most anticipated activities is a workshop developed by Matthew Bumpus, associate director of Human Development, and Katie Forsythe, director of the Transformational Change Initiative, in which students and parents can discuss their expectations for the college experience.

“They will discuss things like how often their son or daughter should visit home, go to church, whether it is acceptable for them to engage in sex or drink alcohol,” Pattinson said. “Having these conversations up front, which can be especially sensitive for the Latinx culture, helps alleviate potential misunderstandings later and encourages students and parents to work through these situations together.”

The program’s final evening features a panel discussion with faculty from several colleges and concludes with a discussion of next steps for academic advising, registration, and other important orientation activities in preparation for the students’ arrival in August.

Pattinson said students she has talked with are excited to meet new people at La Bienvenida, especially because socializing has been difficult for students and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These students are thirsty for opportunities to build community and make connections with people who will help them every step of the way through college,” she said. “They will come away from this program knowing there are people here who care about them and their success.”