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Hispanic outreach helps to break barriers to higher education

MUSCATINE, Iowa -- David Ayala is a man on the move these days.

Ayala, 19, worked his way up over the last three years to become an assistant manager at Hy-Vee.

As the '15 Columbus Junction High School graduate makes the rounds, he remembers timely fatherly advice.

"You need to stay in school," he recalled.

Elizabeth Medina understands the academic, economic and cultural barriers facing Hispanic students.

They are the same barriers she faced long before becoming admissions director at Muscatine Community College.

"One of the things that my dad would tell me is, 'I don't know how you're going to get the help, or where you're going to go, but you're going to go to school,'" she remembered.

An English as a Second Language class can start to break down barriers.  That's because this campus reaches out to traditional and non-traditional students.

Medina, who speaks fluent Spanish, helps to bridge that gap.

"It's a lot easier when someone is there and able to speak the same language," she said.

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges are working to make higher education more inviting and accessible to Hispanic students.

Students like Ayala discover that the first step can lead to big things.

"I've always wanted to go to school," he said.  "I chose MCC because it was close, and the schooling here is great."

A Nursing student, David balances family, work and college with his wife, Sophia, also a student, and their young daughter.

"It's really flexible," he continued.  "I really love that.  I'll still get to where I want to be and be able to support my family in the meantime."

Hispanics make up about 17% of the enrollment at Muscatine Community College.  Elizabeth Medina plans to grow those numbers.

She recently held information sessions designed for Hispanic students and their families.

"It feels really good that I've been able to kind of open up that bridge and be a gateway for them," she said.

For David Ayala, a gateway that puts his nursing career within reach.

He plans to continue studying at St. Ambrose University and the University of Iowa for advanced degrees.

"I'm very excited, but I'm still at the very beginning," he concluded.  "I've got to keep working hard at it and just keep on doing it until I'm done."