Fulfilling the “promise” of FDU’s Latino program


Class of 2012 and Latino Promise graduate Mirelle Mariano (third from left) stands with her class of Footlocker interns. Mariano just recently accepted a fulltime job with the company.

By Kenna Caprio

At first she didn’t say much at school. Scared of sounding funny, the high school junior used her English sparingly.

It’s a stark contrast to the 21-year-old woman that Mirelle Mariano has become. She’ll ask or chat about anything now, often speaking in rapid-fire English.

The Puerto Rican-born Mariano grew up in the Dominican Republic, moving with her mother and siblings to the United States as a high school student in 2006. She graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with honors and a business degree in 2012.

“FDU really opened doors for me in a country where I didn’t know anybody, with a language I felt afraid to speak,” says Mariano, a graduate of the University’s Latino Promise program. “I asked a lot of questions, that’s why I never fell behind,” she says.

In providing academic support and fostering leadership, Latino Promise launched as an effort to increase the number of Latino and Hispanic students that graduate from college. Students that qualify for the program often are raised in America, though not exclusively, and are transitioning directly from high school to college.

Despite her success in high school ESL classes, Mariano had a tough time taking the SATs. After being rejected from Rutgers University and Montclair State University, Mariano leapt at the chance to apply to FDU, after a teacher found a Latino Promise flyer on a school bulletin board.

“I’m not just going to sit down and wait for people to call me,” she says. “If you get good grades and are smart, you get opportunities.”

Ultimately, she didn’t sit down and wait, but instead applied and gained admission to the program and University.

“We give people a chance. We put them in the right environment and they will succeed,” says Latino Promise Director Fernando Alonso.  

Mariano’s mother shares a similar opinion. Despite working as a doctor in the Dominican Republic, she realized she wouldn’t be able to improve the lives of her children without moving the family to the United States.

Because unlike in America, “You don’t move up in society, no matter how educated you are,” says Mariano of the Dominican Republic.

Both of Mariano’s parents were doctors there. “My grandmother was a doctor in the 1950s and 60s,” says Mariano proudly.

That legacy drives Mariano even harder to excel.

“I knew I needed to go to school. I had to make them proud,” she says. And through service projects, internships, trips, high marks, she has.

“We teach them to get involved in everything,” Alonso says. And Latino Promise students do — from joining fraternities and sororities to walking in Relay For Life and registering voters, they make their presence known.

During sophomore year, Latino Promise students are involved in community service projects. “We divided into groups and had to raise funds for a Thanksgiving food drive,” Mariano says. The groups went to supermarkets to collect donations and food —raising nearly $10,000 worth of goods.

“We got to see the homeless eat the food (we collected),” says Mariano.

In an effort to support Haiti relief services, Latino Promise students including Joicy Lereus, Nadia Vargas, brothers Jahiro and Charlie Pardo, Mirelle Mariano (front row, center), Ivis Arias, Stephanie Cedeno and Lydia Soriano, fundraise in the spring of 2010 following the country's devastating earthquake.

Following the earthquake in Haiti, the students focused their efforts on blood donations and fund drives for the American Red Cross. In selling empanadas, the students made nearly $3,000 to support the relief services.

 “Leadership is about influencing people and positioning yourself to succeed,” says Alonso.

Comprised of 12 students, the inaugural class of Latino Promise started school in 2007. Five years later, the program boasts nearly 200 students.

Classes include the basics: history, math, science and literature but focus is put on business and leadership components too.

As a freshman, Mariano interned with the Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development within the New Jersey Department of State. The program, which only accepted 30 students, put Mariano in competition with students from other prestigious universities including Columbia University. Despite her nerves, Mariano impressed with her final assignment: for a policy paper on the DREAM Act, she received a plaque and “best paper” citation.

Her success in that first internship propelled her towards an interest in pre-law.

“I thought I was going to go to law school,” she says. Following her state internship success, Mariano worked in the Bergen County public defender’s office and was accepted to a pre-law “sneak peek” program at SetonHall University.

But she never made it to the “sneak peak.” Instead, Alonso convinced Mariano to apply for a Foot Locker internship, which he called “too-good-to-pass-up.” Mariano applied and landed the position, eventually switching her focus to business.

“She was the first one there and the last one to leave,” Alonso remembers.

And so, when a full-time position opened at Foot Locker, she applied for that too. On June 4, she started what will be six months of training for her new job, “dealing with products directly. Placing products and making sure that stores have the right size in Kids Footlocker,” she says.

Latino Promise students complete their education in two phases. Students enter FDU through a two-year, 60-credit associate degree track. After successfully completing their AA, students may apply an FDU undergraduate program of their choice, chose to complete their education elsewhere or move on with their associate degree.

“My plan is to continue my education — they (Footlocker) pay for graduate school.” Mariano is considering a degree in finance, perhaps from FDU or maybe New York University or Columbia University.

“Latino (Promise) saw my potential and my weaknesses,” Mirelle says. “I’m pleased and thankful to the Latino Promise program. My professors pushed me and never backed down.”

Latino Promise students are provided with ongoing support to help them succeed, including the Latino Promise Leadership Seminar, a three-credit course dedicated to helping transition Latino students from high school to college and beyond. The seminar focuses on study skills, time management, writing, library skills, information literacy and other key elements to success. Students also receive personalized academic advising and are eligible to receive financial assistance through scholarship.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

FDU Office of Public Relations

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