September 03, 2020
students stand at UNT Dallas entrance sign

UNT Dallas students Carlos Martinez-Flores (from left in photo), Daisy López-Martinez, Patricia Masek and Yarik Molina emerged from an international grant competition with an impressive third-place finish, scholarship money and a $4,000 grant to develop their project: The Hispanic Educational Empowerment Project.

The foursome, all Spanish minors, submitted their application for a Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Ford College Community Challenge grant in late February. After recently being notified that they had advanced to the semifinals, the trailblazing team took third place, which also includes a $1,000 scholarship.

Two of the team members will represent UNT Dallas at the 2019 HACU Annual Conference in Chicago in October.

The team’s Hispanic Educational Empowerment Project is designed to assist community members in their journey toward obtaining a GED diploma, opening the door to the potential to secure more full-time employment positions with health care and other benefits in the communities in which they live.

“We believe that the GED diploma will certainly greatly improve the lives of our people, by qualifying them for better paying full-time positions that require a diploma,” the students wrote in their project overview. “With a diploma, Hispanics will gain social mobility and be more able to compete in the job market or further their education in college.”

The students’ proposal competed with applicants from various regions of the world. The team will receive the proceeds through LULAC, their nonprofit partner on the grant proposal. UNT Dallas professor of Spanish and Education, Dr. Mara Vaughn, has created a course called Hispanic Community Literacy, which will allow students who register to assist the team leaders in developing the project.

“I am extremely proud of the students for their hard work and dedication to serve,” Vaughn said. “For them, education is the only way they have to reach their dreams. On that path, they are also fulfilling the dreams of many in our community.”

In their proposal, the students, under the guidance of Bilingual Education professor Dr. Sheryl Santos-Hatchett and School of Education staff member Joe Posada-Triana, noted that according to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 40% of Hispanics age 25 and older do not have a high school diploma, compared with only 8% of among whites.

The students wrote that they believe the rate is actually “much higher in our area.”

They pointed to a variety of factors that contribute to that lack of attaining a high school diploma.

“We live in an area where, like our parents, most Hispanic adults have not finished high school,” the students wrote. “Many of them also have limited English knowledge. Many factors contributed to the lack of education -- immigrated at an older age; need to work to feed the family; and lack of funding to learn English.”

The GED program, the students believe, can help to raise educational attainment.

“What we have been experiencing first-hand in our community is that most Hispanics hold low-paying part-time jobs, such as cleaning, cooking and gardening,” the students wrote. “Most do not possess health or other benefits. Because of that, we feel compelled to change the statistics.”