WEST LAFAYETTE — It has been one year since Aurelio Curbelo, PhD took charge of Purdue University’s Latino Cultural Center and he said been pleased with the support he has received not only from the local Latino community but everyone on the Big Ten campus.
Because of that, Curbelo said he has big plans for his second year, including a community awards gala on Oct. 16 that will be one of the biggest events the center has put on to date.
“My colleagues at Purdue are like a big family. They adopted me,” Curbelo said with a laugh in an interview with Lafayette Diversity News. “They made me feel welcomed. The city has been very welcoming as well. I’ve been involved in several activities in Lafayette and West Lafayette. I’ve enjoyed being involved being involved in things at the state level, too like having a relationship with the Mexican Consulate.”
Curbelo said over the first year, he has seen a healthy increase in not only domestic students using the center but international students as well. He said because of that, the LCC was able to roughly double the number of students who used the center last year.
“The students from the United States and the international students are students with two different needs, but they’re all Latinos,” Curbelo said. “We work with both groups. Some people don’t realize that we’re here for all students. That’s our main goal. We want to help our students navigate the system, no matter where they come from.”
Curbelo admitted that Latino Cultural Center’s success has left him and center with a unique problem – they have outgrown their digs on Russell Street in the heart of Purdue’s campus. He said while finding a new home may a longer term strategy, Curbelo said a new place is a must to meet the future needs for Latino students at Purdue.
“We need bigger facilities and a permanent place,” Curbelo said. “We are in the baby steps stages of addressing it and getting the appropriate infrastructure. We’re aware of the construction that’s going on around us and we’re in touch with the administration and they are aware of our needs. They are working with us on addressing the students of the students.”
One of the things Curbelo said that he would like to grow is scholarships. He said still too often Latino students are taking longer to graduate from Purdue and college in general because of finances. It forces them to drop out or attend part-time.
He said a strong scholarship fund could go a long way to help serious-minded students stay in school and earn their degree on time. Curbelo also praised the establishment last year of the Excelencia Leadership Program in Higher Education for providing leadership skills and opportunities for students. He said some 40 students participated in Excelencia the last academic year and hopes to greatly increase those numbers this year.
Curbelo said the LCC strengthened community ties by working with the local branch of the Abrendos Puertas (Opening Doors) Leadership program. The program helps local Latino families and children. He said the LCC, which worked with students at Lafayette Jeff High School last year, will expand to Logansport High School this year.
Funding for such scholarships and programs could partly come from a new community awards program that will have its inaugural event on Oct. 16 to close out Hispanic Heritage Month at the Purdue University Memorial Union.
The Latino Cultural Center Leadership Global Gala Recognition and Award Celebration is currently gathering sponsors and will honor community leaders for their involvement in the Latino community. Curbelo said that the LCC is working the Purdue Research Foundation on the project with sponsorships ranging from $10,000 to $500.
Other upcoming events, Curbelo said, will include the development of a summer STEM youth program, health program that would include Zumba classes, cooking courses, a Salsa Night and the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.
Going into his second year, Curbelo said he believes the center will become even more involved into the community and hopefully student success on campus.