The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has announced a series of campus information sessions and tours in Spanish.
UTC launched the new initiative in late August, and dozens of local families turned out to get a peek. The five recently added dates are:
- Friday, Sept. 29: 3 p.m.
- Friday, Oct. 13: 9 a.m.
- Friday, Oct. 27: 3 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 10: 9 a.m.
- Friday, Dec. 1: 3 p.m.
The success of the inaugural Aug. 25 event helped solidify its positive impact on the community.
“Bienvenidos a UTC,” Dr. Nikolasa Tejero said as the mostly Spanish-speaking parents and bilingual high school students filed into the UTC Admissions Tour Center.
Tejero, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, helped organize and lead the program. A native Spanish speaker originally from Mexico, she welcomed the crowd and introduced the Spanish-speaking UTC faculty and staff in the audience.
Aimed at “demystifying” the college experience, the event started with a panel of bilingual UTC students, faculty and alumni who spoke on various subjects, including how to apply to UTC, being a first-generation college student and filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA.
UTC regularly communicates with parents of students (and prospective students) to relay high-value information about admissions, financial aid, campus life and graduation. The University is now building those familial relationships en Español to help overcome language barriers for some families of prospective students.
“We are excited to begin offering Spanish-language campus tours this semester,” said Stacie Grisham, interim vice chancellor for enrollment management and student affairs.
“We know the college search process can be an important but stressful journey, and we want to support our students and their families to make the process as easy as possible. Offering our campus tours in Spanish creates more access, and we want our prospective students and families to learn about our great campus and community when they visit.”
Locally, the number of Hamilton County residents who identify as Hispanic or Latino increased by 81% in the last decade, far outpacing the 2% state average and 12% national average, according to U.S. Census data.
“The data pointed us to a perfect opportunity to better serve our community and our students,” Tejero said.
Rudy Simon Tomas, a freshman majoring in construction management, volunteered to help with the initial tour because of his experience having parents who speak limited English.
“I relate to these guys a lot. I was in their shoes,” Tomas said before taking his seat on the pre-tour panel.
His brother Andy Tomas is one of the new Spanish-speaking tour guides, one of two who are paid interns through a partnership between the UTC admissions office and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
Like many students at the event with their parents, the Tomas brothers speak perfect English but their parents, originally from Guatemala, speak very little.
“I wish my parents could have come to this. I just want the students and parents to know that we’re here for them and that they’re not alone when it comes to the college journey,” said Rudy Tomas, a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.
Wendy Reynoso, an Honors College student who graduated from UTC in 2022 with a mechanical engineering degree, was another member of the panel. She now works as an associate case manager at La Paz, a local organization serving the Spanish-speaking community of Chattanooga. UTC and La Paz partnered to spread the word about the University’s new Hispanic outreach initiative.
Reynoso recounted some of the challenges she and her parents faced in 2018 when she graduated from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and transitioned to UTC, including completing the FAFSA.
After the panel addressed the audience, the prospective students were taken to the UTC Library and given a chance to apply to UTC for free.
The panel then fielded questions from parents such as Veronica Neri-Ruiz, who came with her son, John—a senior at The Howard School—and her 22-year-old nephew, Bryan.
Originally from Mexico, Neri-Ruiz wanted to know the ideal time to start applying for college and if UTC accepted students who earned a GED instead of a high school diploma.
“Yes, and it’s really never too early to start the process,” said Brandalyn Shropshire, associate director of engagement in the UTC admissions, who helped organize and lead the event. Her answers were translated by Tejero.
Still, the language barrier didn’t stop Shropshire from connecting with parents.
“You’re now part of the UTC family,” Shropshire said.
Students and parents then reunited for a campus tour as the sun set, each group bringing new information to share with the other as they toured campus at sunset.
“This is just the beginning,” Tejero said.