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GANAS helps Latino transfer students gain confidence, degree


In its first year, GANAS attracted 31 participants. Up to 70 students are expected to participate in an expanded program in 2014-15.

  • December 27, 2013

Enrollment of Latino students at Cal State East Bay has soared 54 percent since 2008. For Latino students who transferred from a community college, however, fewer walked away with a CSUEB degree after three years compared with students from other demographic groups.

It’s an achievement gap CSUEB educators have set out to correct through a program introduced fall quarter called Gaining Access ‘n’ Academic Success, or GANAS. A Spanish word, ganas is associated with qualities such as courage, desire, achievement, empowerment and motivation.

The largest and fastest growing population in the state, Latinos are expected to become the majority racial and ethnic group by 2060. Only 10 percent of Latinos in California hold a bachelor’s degree and 4 percent nationwide completed graduate or professional degree programs. Across the state, about 611,000 Latinos attend community colleges, making it the largest population enrolled at two-year institutions.

“They go to community college, and the problem is: They don’t get out,” said Diana Balgas, GANAS program lead, noting that only 14 percent go on to a four-year colleges.

Referring to President Leroy M. Morishita’s call for improving retention and graduation rates, as discussed during his fall convocation address, Balgas acknowledged that enrolling more transfer students alone is not the answer. The challenge is to help make sure they complete their undergraduate education and earn a degree.

“Cal State East Bay is the first CSU to attempt something like this with GANAS,” she said. “We were looking at what we can do for transfer students. We looked to Puente as a model.”

Offered at community colleges from Chico to San Diego, the Puente Project unifies a group of students by assigning them to take three classes together over the academic year. The project emphasizes strengthening students’ English skills. Participants also receive extensive mentoring and personal support. The project’s approach resembles a learning community, similar to those in which CSUEB freshmen take part, and has resulted in improved grades and higher academic aspirations and transfer rates to four-year colleges for Puente students.

GANAS differs from Puente in that it weaves into coursework lectures and assignments that resonate with students from Latino backgrounds, although the program is open to all transfer students. The inaugural GANAS program at CSUEB enrolled 31 students from 21 community colleges statewide.

“Of the 31, six are men,” said Balgas. “We have Dreamers (Dream Act students), most are first-generation college goers. We have a variety of majors; it ranges from business to sociology. And although the program is open to all students, 84 percent are Latino.”

Throughout the 2013-14 academic year, participants will take three upper division general education classes together –– two ethnic studies courses and a biology class. They also receive regular academic counseling and are assigned a peer mentor.

GANAS has received $157,000 in support from the CSU Success Initiative in addition to two Cal State East Bay Programmatic Excellence and Innovation in Learning grants for planning ($10,000) and implementation ($70,000).

“It’s a very good program,” said GANAS participant Erik Miranda, 21, a psychology major. “You have passionate teachers who are willing to help you pursue whatever goals you may want to pursue.”

And if academic or personal problems arise, GANAS team members help keep students on track – and in school -- by pointing them to appropriate resources and sometimes just by lending an ear.

When Miranda disapproved of one recent assignment, he said, he went straight to his peer mentor, who helped him figure out a solution.

“They were there to listen,” he said. “I’m kind of grateful for that.”

GANAS student Adriana Canahuati, 26, a business major, said she also appreciates studying subjects related to her heritage, such as a recent lesson on traditional herbal remedies.

“I can’t take normal stuff like Tylenol,” said Canahuati, who listened closely to a description of herbal remedies for treating headaches. “It’s overall (giving us) more knowledge. It’s also going back to our roots.”

The class session was led by guest speaker, Atava Garcia Swiecicki, an herbalist trained by Mexican curanderas, or healers. During the lesson ––  part of a fall quarter ethnic studies course called Decolonize Your Diet: Food Justice in Communities of Color –– GANAS students learned about the healing properties attributed to specific plants.

“This is a renown plant for treating migraines,” said Garcia Swiecicki, holding up a leafy green herb with small white flowers called feverfew. “You make it into a tincture.”

As she spoke, a large pot of water simmered on a hot plate at the front of the room on the ground floor of Meiklejohn Hall. Tinctures, she explained, are herbal extracts mixed with alcohol. Using a dropper, the mixture may be placed on the hand or into a cup.

The curandera also discussed other herbs commonly used in Latino culture, including ruda, a toxic plant used sparingly. Rolled up and placed in the ear, it’s often used to treat ear infections, she said.

“A remedio that my teacher taught was to put a little piece in hot chocolate, which is why I love Mexican remedies,” said Garcia Swiecicki about a traditional treatment for menstrual cramps.

“Someone in class told me they did that,” said Associate Professor Luz Calvo, instructor of the Decolonize Your Diet course.

A female student spoke up from the back of the classroom, saying: “Yeah, but I used a lot more than that.”

Her classmates erupted into laughter at the comment.

Camaraderie is one of the intended outcomes of the GANAS program, Balgas pointed out.

“It’s really trying to build a community that supports each other,” she said.

Transfer students generally are older than first-time freshmen and arrive at CSUEB with college experience, making it easy to assume they don’t need much support, Balgas said. It’s often not the case.

“It’s amazing to find how afraid students are (through questions like): ‘Am I going to fit in here?’ ‘Will I make it?’ ‘How will I adapt to the quarter system compared to the semester system?’”

As a former Puente participant, Elizabeth Paredes, 22, said participating in GANAS has been a good fit for her.

“This was a better transition coming from a two-year college to a four-year college,” she said. “It’s like (having) a little support system.”

Learn more or apply to the program by visiting GANAS online.

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