By: Verónica Gutiérrez, MBA’22, Dominican University, River Forest IL and Marcela Reales Visbal, Activity Director for Title V, Part B – Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans, Dominican University, River Forest IL
“I had never heard of the term HSI until I came to Dominican University”, said Verónica Gutiérrez, a first-generation Latina who grew up in one of Chicago’s northwestern suburbs and recently graduated with her Master’s in Business Administration from Dominican.
Dominican University is one of 30 Hispanic Serving Institutions in Illinois, and one of 15 that offers graduate programs.1 While most HSIs are concentrated in the U.S. Southwest, Puerto Rico, and New York, Dominican proudly serves the midwestern Latine community. The school is considered Chicago’s Premier Catholic HSI.
Like Verónica, many students at Dominican are first-generation college students and from historically marginalized communities in the Chicago metropolitan area. With Latine students accounting for 20% of college undergraduates in the United States, it’s crucial to be intentional about serving this subset of the population.2
How? By building on students’ assets and offering them tools and resources that will help them succeed.
Since the fall of 2017 Dominican University has been awarded Title V and Title III grants aimed at increasing Latine and low-income student success. These resources expand and enhance academic offerings, academic support services for undergraduate and graduate students, career and professional preparedness, and co-curricular offerings such as a Financial Wellness program. They also support faculty and staff across campus to become more culturally inclusive through their work and teaching practices.
“When I came to Dominican there was an overall focus on the well-being of the students,” said Verónica. “It felt like a lot of the faculty, such as Professor of Management Molly Burke, were generally very interested and concerned about how the students were doing, offering academic support and connecting us with people and resources.”
While pursuing her MBA, Verónica was a graduate assistant for the Financial Wellness program. The program, led by Ramiro Atristaín Carrión offers students financial literacy workshops, financial guidance, undergraduate internships, and volunteering opportunities in the community. The assistantship gave Verónica an opportunity to expand her knowledge of Financial Literacy, mentor undergraduate students, and gain project management skills.
This experience led her to pursue her current career as a consultant for higher education: “As a first-gen student I always find it useful when institutions offer tools and resources that empower the students, whether it’s through experiential opportunities like internships or graduate assistantships, that will provide experiences needed for a lot of our students,” she said.
Verónica has always been committed to mentorship and advocating for her community.
“Growing up I had very supportive teachers that always believed in my potential, so I believed that I could accomplish whatever was in my mind,” she said. “I would also say that representation does matter. Ramiro was in investment banking, and I had never met anyone from Latin America that was in investment banking, so it was the first time that I entered the room and thought that anything was possible!”
“We cannot be what we cannot see,” writes actor and social justice advocate Michael K. Williams in his posthumous memoir.3
Providing a variety of tools and opportunities for our students to see beyond what they know and succeed on their endeavors, is key to helping them be the best-possible version of themselves.
1Excelencia in Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs): 2020-2021
2National Center for Education Statistics and; The White House: A Proclamation on Hispanic Heritage Institutions Week, 2022
3Williams, Michael Kenneth, and Jon Sternfeld. Scenes from My Life: A Memoir. Crown, 2022.
Verónica Gutiérrez currently works for a consulting firm in Chicago. She graduated debt free by applying the personal finance concepts taught by Ramiro J. Atristaín-Carrión in the program. Verónica believes in empowering individuals by equipping them with the knowledge, tools, and skills they need to be successful. Her future goal is to start a financial literacy program to empower women and other first-generation college students.