For Jarett Lujan, a senior biology major from Marfa, coming to Angelo State as the first of his family to go to college was almost overwhelming.
“I really didn’t know anyone when I got here,” Lujan said. “I graduated in a class of 30. I was worried about fitting in. But really, it was about feeling welcome, and ASU did that very well.”
Now president of the Student Government Association, Lujan credits ASU’s First Generation Host Family Program for being the bridge between his small-town upbringing and the challenges of college. His host parent was Robert Garcia, a staff member in ASU’s Multicultural Center.
“He’s more like a brother,” Lujan said. “Without him, I honestly don’t know if I’d be here today. He’s my best friend.”
Launched in 2009 and coordinated by Lorina Soza of the Multicultural Center, the program is aiding 65 students this semester. Soza matches students who apply with one of more than 45 volunteer host families.
“We’re here to help students, retain them and graduate them,” Soza said.
While the students don’t live with their host families, they can turn to them for help adjusting to their news lives as freshmen. Hosts are responsible for periodically checking up on their students and asking how they can help them succeed in college. They can also serve as a student’s family away from home, driving them so they can do necessary shopping or introducing them to the cultural and entertainment opportunities on and off campus.
Dr. Kathleen Price of ASU’s kinesiology faculty volunteered for the host family program for the first time this fall.
“I think it’s important to make a difference,” Price said. “A lot of these students are a little uncertain. I have nieces this same age in college. I know how difficult it was for them. It’s important that these kids make a connection right off the bat.”
She was matched with Gabriella Cano, a freshman from Monahans.
“I really didn’t know anyone when I got here. I graduated in a class of 30. I was worried about fitting in. But really, it was about feeling welcome, and ASU did that very well.”
“Even having just met, we already found out we know a lot of the same people,” Price said. “When I was ASU’s women’s golf coach, I did a lot of recruiting and I had good experiences with Monahans kids.”
“I don’t know what to expect, but after meeting Gabriella, I’m excited and looking forward to getting to know her,” Price added. “For her, I want it to be that when she needs something, she feels comfortable contacting me. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent.”
The program has expanded to include international students, who are not only new to the campus environment but also new to West Texas. Host families introduce these students to such cultural opportunities as Thanksgiving Day, the rodeo, the Chicken Farm Art Center and popular American cuisine like hamburgers and fried chicken.
All the hosts are encouraged to invite their students into their homes for family meals and to help them celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Some hosts are able to take their students on trips to Austin or San Antonio, as well as area ranches.
But whatever they do with their students, host families make a positive difference.
“Little things mean so much,” Lujan said. “As host parents, you can do big things but the little things mean just as much.”