Meet the Executive Vice-President of Penn State's Latino Caucus
Junior student Samantha Escobar explains the importance of the organization in her life and to the university.
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The granddaughter of Colombian immigrants and daughter of a Paraguayan, Samantha Escobar grew up in New Jersey in a predominantly white neighborhood. She felt she couldn’t express her Latino culture during high school, so when she went to college at Penn State, she was determined to find ways to express who she really was.
After a remote freshman year during the pandemic, in her first week on campus as a sophomore she joined the Colombian American Student Association (kindly nicknamed “CASA”). She was not only able to meet everyone from that organization that had similar ethnical background, but also people from other Latin American countries and their respective clubs — such as the Dominican Republic Association and the Puerto Rican Association.
“Here [at Penn State] we have so many different and unique student groups that really let you identify with your ethnic culture,” she added.
All of these different associations are underneath Latino Caucus, the main Latino organization at Penn State. Representing over 3,000 Latin American students spread across 20 organizations, its mission is to be the voice of this community on campus. Escobar became the Executive Vice-President after the organization's early April election, an achievement that was only possible because she truly felt comfortable at the university as soon as she moved there and joined CASA.
“I think that was a major turning point in my life,” she said. “Before this experience, I felt like I wasn't able to be expressive of who I was and take pride in the things that I did growing up because it was so different from others that I went to high school with.”
According to Penn State Undergraduate Admissions, in the 2018-1029 school year, the percentage of Hispanics/Latinos enrolled in the university was 7.65%. In 2021, there were almost 7,000 Hispanic students walking around the University Park campus, based on a College Factual research.
Latino Caucus has been organizing social and professional events for these Latin American students to both network and relax. From career fairs with alumni and LinkedIn guidance, to celebrations with Latin food and music, Escobar said she has high expectations for the upcoming year.
Besides joining the E-Board of Latino Caucus and being a double major in Political Science and History, Escobar is also a part of Schreyer Honors College at Penn State and Paterno Fellows Program — developed for students to with higher academic achievement and to differentiate themselves. Over the past three years, she has received more than 10 scholarships — from academic and merit, to need based. She explained that her involvement at Penn State and keeping her high grades has helped her secure the funding needed for her to attend school.
She said Penn State has been extremely helpful in aiding students succeed, especially Latinos, as the university offers many opportunities. This Summer, for example, Escobar is interning at the Division of Development and Alumni Relations at Penn State. Witnessing the behind the scenes of scholarships and its donors has been special for her, making her appreciate going to Penn State even more.
“I was able to come here solely because of the generosity of scholarship donors,” she added. “Without my scholarships, I would not be able to afford school because I have to pay for that on my own.”
Specifically in admissions, Penn State has a Multicultural Outreach office that makes sure to give underrepresented minority students an opportunity to attend the university, aiming to diversify its student body. Escobar highlighted how many people may think of Penn State as a predominantly white school at first, but that there are many opportunities for people of color to get involved.
“Penn State can seem overwhelming at first,” she said. “But with some time, it is possible to dive into things that really represent you.”
As for her future, Escobar says she plans to go to Law School and would love to work in politics in Washington D.C. one day. These goals however would not be possible if it wasn’t for Latino Caucus, which has allowed her to experience multiculturalism in the academic setting.
“It is incredibly important to have an organization like that on campus in order for students to truly feel comfortable and be able to succeed academically,” she said. “You wouldn’t be able to do well if you were not feeling comfortable and welcomed.”