START helps non-English speakers to college success

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Though universities across the nation organize student orientation programs every summer, a rare version of this program exists at Oregon State University: START Bilingue.

In its second year at OSU, this Spanish and English orientation program is only one of a few across the country, according to Rick DeBellis, Student Orientation and Retention Program coordinator.

“It’s very important for us to realize our student population is changing,” said SOAR Director Kris Winter.

START is OSU’s summer advising and registration program designed to welcome new students to the OSU community.

START Bilingue is designed to welcome Spanish speaking families and orient them to campus, Winter said.

“It made (families) feel connected … and already the transition is so hard,” said Whitney Green, a START Bilingue orientation leader and one of the student workers who has gone through the program’s evaluations. “(Students) liked that their parents could

be involved.”

START Bilingue and START open together with a presentation in English, translated into Spanish.

After that, START Bilingue separates into smaller focus groups.

Presentations, all in Spanish, on subjects from finances to success in college are then presented to the Spanish-speaking families.

But START Bilingue is not an exclusive program.

“We did have families that weren’t native speakers but wanted to participate anyway,” Winter said excitedly.

START Bilingue was offered at only the third session of START this summer.

DeBellis also explained that START Bilingue was chosen to be held during the third START session because a later date allows the START staff to gain more experience and confidence in the program before a new element is added.

He also said that later dates tend to have a little bit more of a laid-back atmosphere. DeBellis said the idea for START Bilingue “came out of a conversation about how we can better support students whose family members don’t necessarily speak English.”

Most students this happened with were from Spanish-speaking families.

This program follows the mission statement for SOAR programs, which includes an emphasis on orienting and retaining families as well as students.

As a Regional Director of the National Orientation Directors Association, Winter will present information on START Bilingue at the national conference held in Washington, D.C.