Hispanic and Latino Students Find Powerful Role Models at Berkeley College


Berkeley College

Contact:  Ilene Lumpkin
Director of Media Relations
201-291-1111, ext. 5122



Professor Manuel Correa is irked when Hispanic and Latino students use heritage as a barrier to their success. Whether it’s living in a bad neighborhood, lack of finances, prejudices, or English as a second language, Professor Correa doesn’t want to hear it.  
“My advice to you is to get over it,” Professor Correa tells a gathering of students during a recent presentation held in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Berkeley College Midtown Campus. “It’s not that I’m insensitive, but I’ve been there. I grew up in Harlem. My father had a third grade education and my mother never went further than eight grade. We often did not have heat in the winter. What I want you to understand is that you are not alone in the hurdles you are facing. Others have been there before you, and they have succeeded.”
Hispanic and Latino students need look no further than Berkeley College for shining examples. Immediate past president Mildred García, EdD, is a native of Puerto Rico and the first in her family to attend college. Current president Dario Cortes, PhD, was born in Colombia, raised in Argentina, and immigrated to Queens as a teenager. He was also the first in his family to earn a college degree.
Professor Correa rose above life’s circumstances to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. He is currently working towards a Doctorate of Philosophy in Business Administration degree. He has held numerous executive positions in the corporate world, and today he teaches business courses at Berkeley College while owning and operating a management consulting business.
Finding Role Models in Alumni
Berkeley graduates also serve as role models for young Hispanics and Latinos. Luis Max Perez, President of the Berkeley College Alumni Association, felt his world turn upside down when at age 14 his parents sent for him and his 13-year-old brother to leave Ecuador and join them in Union City, NJ. This was in the early 1980s when Fidel Castro had expelled mental patients and criminals from Cuba. Many of those exiles were now living in Hudson County, NJ.
"It was difficult for us to adjust to the language, and there was a lot of crime in our neighborhood," Mr. Perez recalls of those early years in the United States. "We were surrounded by drug dealers and saw our own people shooting one another.”
Although he didn’t appreciate it then, Mr. Perez today understands that his parents brought him and his brother – who is now a high school teacher - to the United States because they believed it provided a better opportunity for their future.
“My parents didn’t say you have to go to college to be successful, but they told me and my siblings that we could succeed at whatever we wanted to do as long as we put our minds to it,” says Mr. Perez, who graduated from Berkeley in 2004 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration – Management, and earned a Master’s degree in Technology Management from Stevens Institute of Technology. “All of my siblings graduated from college.”
Today as Mr. Perez provides for his own children, he also serves as a role model within the Latino community. Former Vice President of Systems Technology Services at a major financial corporation, Mr. Perez volunteers as Director of the NJ Chapter of Latinos in Information Science and Technology Association. The not-for-profit organization provides Latinos with technology tutoring. In addition, he mentors Latino middle and high school students through the not-for-profit Save Latin America organization. 
Rising above Prejudices
During his recent address to students – most of whom were members of the Berkeley College Hispanic Organization Leading in America (HOLA) Club – Professor Correa agreed with students that it is indeed hurtful and frustrating to deal with the prejudices aimed towards Hispanics and Latinos. Among the misconceptions students say they hear most often about Hispanics is that they are: lazy; uneducated; happy to stay on welfare; like to party all of the time; have a lot of children; don’t speak English well; only work in menial jobs.
“Did I face prejudice? A Hispanic with an engineering degree? You better believe it! They called me every nationality except Puerto Rican. Did it hurt? Yes it did,” Professor Correa tells the students. “You are going to face prejudice sooner or later. So what? Life goes on. Prejudice is nothing more than ignorance. Ignorance on the part of the other person. Don’t let these prejudices bring you down.”
Like Professor Correa, Mr. Perez has also battled prejudice in corporate America.
“The stereotype here is that the Latino guy is the happy guy who is always quick to say hello and shake your hand, but he is never seen as someone who could become senior management in the company,” Mr. Perez says. “I was hired as a technician at a large financial corporation by an Anglo woman, and it was a challenge for me to prove to her – because of my Hispanic heritage – that I could be more than a technician.”
Instead of being discouraged, Mr. Perez forged ahead to become a vice president in the company. 
“I never took prejudices as a negative. I saw them as a learning experience and stepped around prejudiced people,” Mr. Perez says.
As students or employees Mr. Perez says, “Hispanics frequently have to work twice as hard as their counterparts to succeed.”
“Some people believe that when Hispanics or Latinos are awarded scholarships, it’s not because they are smart, but just because they are members of a minority group,” Mr. Perez adds. “My sister is an attorney, and she feels in her field that, because she is a minority and a woman, she has to constantly prove herself. This is a stigma that a lot of us carry.”
Drawing Strength from Heritage
Rather than looking at their culture as a hindrance to career success, Professor Correa tells students that in this age of globalization they should draw strength from their heritage.
“Hispanics are very passionate, loyal, responsible, hard-working and proud people. These are all traits that are highly valued in the workplace,” Professor Correa says.
These strengths also serve students well as they work toward earning a college degree.
 “The hardest step in reaching your goals is going to college. You’ve already taken that step,” the professor tells his young audience. “Success is out there waiting for you.”
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