Latino Student Summit promotes education, career opportunities

April 18, 2023

Christian Barrientos is a firm believer in “there is power behind sharing your story.”

Speaking to the South Carolina Latino Student Summit at Lander University, Barrientos told his personal story of achievement to Hispanic high school students from Greenwood and the surrounding area. A first-generation college graduate, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Colombia, South America, Barrientos talked about his educational journey at Furman University and his career at Clemson University, where he is the associate director of college preparation and outreach.

“I wanted to make my family proud,” said Barrientos, a second-year doctoral student in Clemson’s Educational Leadership Program.”I associated college with winning the lottery.”The summit, sponsored by Lander’s El Puento Latino and the South Carolina Commission of Minority Affairs, is an initiative of the commission’s Pathways for Latinos to Advance Career and Education (PLACE) Program. The goal is to foster education development and career advancement by collaborations among educators, professionals and community organizations.

The Barrientos family relocated to Rhode Island, where the multi-generational family included a grandmother, parents and Barrientos’ siblings. Although he had apprehensions about his ability to succeed in college, Barrientos was determined to go to college and find his path to success. “I want you to do what you want to do, whether it is college, going into the workforce or the military. Be a contributing member of society.”

He shared five tips for helping the students reach their own education and career goals:

  • Be present. “When you are in the room, be actively present,” he said, encouraging students to focus on what is happening at the time rather than spending attention on phones and other devices. “You’re going to miss out on so much if you aren’t actively present.”
  • Don’t forget where you come from. As the son of immigrant parents, Barrientos encouraged students to be proud of their heritage. “Be proud of who you are. Give back to the community that has given to you.”
  • Your culture is your superpower. Being bilingual is an asset in many businesses, schools and organizations. “It can put more coins in your pocket. There is so much you can do with your language and knowledge,” he said.
  • Meet people where they are. For those going to college, their family and community may not understand what they are doing and learning. Barrientos encouraged the students to take time to share their experiences in ways that others can understand and appreciate.
  • Grow Your Family, La Familia. “Make sure you think about ‘Who is in my corner? Who is supporting me?’ Your teachers, your professors and those other than your family can help you.” He discussed the educators and career professionals at the summit who were with the students. “There are people here who want you to excel,” he said, encouraging them to reach out to those who could support them.

A panel of students from Somos LU, Lander’s Hispanic-Latinx student organization, discussed a wide range of topics with summit participants, including scholarships and financial aid, campus life and activities and academic opportunities.

“Be open to change” was the advice of one Lander student. “You’ll find resources. You just have to ask for help.”