FSU opens Center for Latino Studies with West Michigan focus

November 30, 2012
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FSU opens Center for Latino Studies with West Michigan focus
Tony Baker, executive director of FSU’s Center for Latino Studies, and Jessica Cruz, associate director, at the center in Big Rapids. Courtesy Ferris State University

The space in Room 131 that was once Ferris State University’s Interdisciplinary Resource Center in Big Rapids has been transformed into the new Center for Latino Studies.

The center, which celebrated its grand opening Tuesday night, is designed to provide educational and social opportunities for West Michigan’s Latino communities. The creation of an “Intercambio Cultural,” a welcoming space for cultures to mix, will rely on student, academic and community connections.

“Our focus now is West Michigan and that’s for intentional reasons but also for convenience,” said Tony Baker, a Ferris professor and the center’s executive director. “We really reached out to the migrant community the last couple months to connect with students and children within that community.”

Baker, who is also vice president on the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education, said he is a sociology professor who looks at community development, not necessarily business start-ups. The two, however, are being linked through Baker’s work.

For example, if the university invests in Grandville Avenue on the southwest side, he said, it could make the area a successful corridor and retain families and their children, who would become eventual young talent in the local education system. Those students could then work in the community through their respective colleges.

Ferris also recently created the Latino Business and Economic Development Center in Grand Rapids, which will assist Latino business leaders through networking and leadership development.

The new business center is led by Carlos Sanchez, who was the previous executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“(Sanchez) is heading it up and it’s working out of the Ferris Grand Rapids office,” Baker said. “He will be setting up developments within the Latino community in Grand Rapids and eventually all of West Michigan.”

The new business center is part of the Latino Studies Center, Sanchez said, with a tentative budget of about $100,000.

The business center is currently working on curriculum to train businesses on how to market and have better customer relationships with the Latino community, Sanchez said. He has been in communications with groups like LINC Revitalization, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women and the West Michigan Chamber of Commerce on preparing businesses for professional development.

Sanchez said he is very excited to begin.

“This is similar to what to what I was doing at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, with the exception that this is not a membership organization,” he said. “We can also work with Ferris students and the view is broader.”

Baker plans to spend a lot of time creating connections between the colleges and the Latino community in various ways. He said he already has plans in place with the colleges of business, pharmacy, health professions, arts and sciences, education and human services, and engineering technology.

“As we talk about school reform, one of the things we talk about is training students to work in an urban setting,” Baker said. “With all of these colleges, Ferris has already done this in other communities, and now they’re doing it in the Latino community.”

Eventually the work will expand to other areas in the state. For now, however, Baker, in a recent report on the project, wrote that the following goals are in the works:

  • Creation of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan as a primary community adviser assisting with staff/faculty introductions to the community.
  • Latin Americans United for Progress’ “Adelante” group, featuring weekly meetings and a spring college fair for Latinos.
  • Telamon Corp., which will offer internship opportunities and build relationships with the migrant farm worker community, eventually making certificate and degree programs available to migrant workers.
  • Partnerships with Grand Rapids Public Schools, specifically Union High School, that include campus visits, connections with the colleges of education and pharmacy and introduction to the Jim Crow Museum in Big Rapids.
  • Partnerships with the Mexican Consulate in Detroit revolving around the photo exhibit “Dia de los Muertos.”
  • A Latin American film festival involving Grand Valley State University and Aquinas and Calvin colleges.

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