High‑impact programs for undocumented students gaining widespread interest

Students in the Mariposas Poderosas program sculpted clay this spring
Students in the Mariposas Poderosas program sculpted clay this spring as part of a creative care activity designed to ease stress.

When Marcela Pattinson gave a workshop in Boston last month on Washington State University’s Undocumented Initiatives programs, a participant from Washington said he was surprised to travel thousands of miles from home to learn that some of the nation’s best practices for serving undocumented students are happening in his own backyard.

He is far from the only one taking notice of the wide array of high-impact programs and services WSU provides. 

Pattinson, the director of Undocumented Initiatives at WSU, said higher education institutions across the region and country want to learn more about WSU’s programs, and what impresses people the most about the programs are the multifaceted and innovative approaches to serving students.

“Between our outreach efforts to new students and their families, the classes and workshops we provide to help students build leadership and resiliency, immigration consultations, and our center in the CUB, we are doing things other universities are interested in learning about,” Pattinson said.

Seeing La Bienvenida first-hand

Among the programs and services receiving the most attention is La Bienvenida, a New Coug Orientation program tailored specifically for Spanish-speaking families.

This year, the Pullman La Bienvenida program  hosted representatives from other universities and community organizations for the first time. Pattinson said since the program was founded in 2008, people from other institutions have asked to see the program for themselves, and she is excited that representatives from a dozen universities and agencies from around the Northwest  were in attendance.  

“Our visitors  did more than just observe the program, they  participated in the same way the students and families did,” said Pattinson. “That means they  slept in the residence halls, ate in the dining center, and attended the same workshops.”

La Bienvenida welcomes between 200 and 300 new students and their families each year to the Pullman campus for a comprehensive orientation that highlights the ins and outs of campus life and university resources and introduces them to the WSU faculty and staff who will help them transition to college. In 2022, a gift from Bob and Karen Felton allowed the program to expand to WSU Tri-Cities and WSU Vancouver.

The interest in La Bienvenida, particularly from institutions in Washington, is strengthened by the relationships Pattinson has forged with those universities as co-founder of the Washington State Coalition for Undocumented Student Success, which provides a platform for organizations around the state to discuss and share best practices for serving undocumented students. 

Pattinson and coalition leaders are busy planning Undocumented Summit 2023, a June gathering that will explore strategies to build empowerment and resiliency in immigrant and undocumented communities. 

Supporting mental health through ‘creative care’

Building resiliency is key to addressing mental health among students, which is a main objective of Undocumented Initiatives’ Mariposas Poderosas program. Six students who have participated in Mariposas Poderosas have been invited to share what they have learned in the program and the impact it has had on them at the Latino Health Equity Conference in Portland, Oregon, in June.

In keeping with the conference’s focus on building community and resilience for climate change, the students plan to talk about creative care, which earth sciences major Itzia Mejia Barragan likens to ecotherapy.

Barragan, who experienced a lot of stress as a new student at WSU worrying about her undocumented status, said Mariposas Poderosas provided her with excellent support and taught her how to use nature to cope with her anxieties. She now wants to share her successes with other colleges and organizations.

“I learned that it is okay for me to say I’m undocumented out loud and not be afraid or ashamed,” Barragan said. “That openness has brought some struggles, but it also empowered me, and I love sharing my story with others.”

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