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  October 25, 2004

Cultural Center Has New Director

Mayté Pérez-Franco grew up in Puerto Rico and, during her graduate studies at the University of Arizona, worked with several early academic outreach programs focusing on Latinos and access to higher education. Her doctoral dissertation focused on Latino high school students and their college attitudes, perceptions, and choices.

Now, she’s putting that knowledge to work, as the new director of UConn’s Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center.

Image: Mayté Pérez-Franco with Blanca Silvestrini and Ronald Taylor.

Mayté Pérez-Franco, director of the Puerto-Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, center, speaks with Blanca Silvestrini, director of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute, left, and Ronald Taylor, vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, during the Center's welcome-back picnic earlier this semester.
Photo by Jordan Bender

“The Latino students I talked to wanted and planned to go to college. However, they had very little accurate information about colleges and the application process,” Pérez-Franco says, recalling her work. “That’s a problem facing Latinos today. They often attend inner-city high schools with few resources and even fewer counselors that can guide them through the process. Since most of these students’ parents haven’t gone to college, they end up making their college decisions with little guidance and are often dissuaded by competing options such as short vocational programs, the military, and work. Many of the Latino students who enroll in four-year colleges come with little knowledge of the system, how it works, and what to expect.

“That’s where my challenge lies,” she adds, “and I’m absolutely passionate about this work.”

Pérez-Franco has already started meeting many of the faculty, staff, and administrators she expects to work with closely. She has begun developing a program to match freshmen and transfer Latino students with Latino peer mentors, is planning to offer leadership skills training, and has begun planning a series of events for students at the cultural center as well as for faculty and staff. She also hopes to visit a number of urban school districts to encourage Latinos to apply to UConn.

“Most Latinos go to urban colleges or community colleges,” Pérez-Franco says. “They want to stay around their homes, and they’re concerned about money. Many of them have worked hard to get to this point, and they cherish their family.”

She wants them to know that Storrs, with nearly 900 Latino students, also has much to offer, she says – from a quality education, and programs designed to keep students in school, to a busy cultural center.

Pérez-Franco hopes to make the center busier still. “We’re getting good participation so far, even from the freshmen,” she says. “The film series has started, Homecoming is here, and we’ve scheduled (Hartford Mayor) Eddie Perez and Lydia Martinez (State Representative from Bridgeport) for a discussion of the presidential elections. In November, we’ll co-sponsor, with the other cultural centers, ‘Faces of America,’ a one-man play that seeks to educate people about what it’s like to be different. I’d like to start offering workshops too, on how to get into graduate school.”

It’s early, but Pérez-Franco also has to begin planning the center’s move into the new Student Union. The African American Cultural Center and the Rainbow Center have already moved into the newly renovated part of the building, and PR/LACC, the Asian American Cultural Center, and the Women’s Center will join them when the second phase of the Student Union is completed next summer.

“The move presents an opportunity for us and the other centers to be together under one roof,” she says. “I hope it will result in greater collaboration in programming, and I hope it will bring more people into the center.”

Pérez-Franco earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia State University, and her doctorate at the University of Arizona, where she also held several positions in student affairs. From 1995 to 1998, she taught beginning Spanish at Cobb County Public Schools in Cobb County, Ga.