Integrative Learning at a Hispanic-Serving Institution:
Reflecting on Cultural Assets
Cyndia Morales Muñiz, Ed.D
Director, HSI Culture & Partnerships
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
President’s Office Division
Chances are you have already learned that UCF is now officially recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI)–the excitement is sure spreading fast! What you may be asking yourself is “What does it mean to be an HSI?” The designation itself is interpreted in many ways. I have the great pleasure (and responsibility) of helping our diverse university constituents make meaning of our new institutional identity from their positionality. One avenue through which this charge can be accomplished is by engaging UCF community members in metacognition, one of the key components of integrative learning. It is my hope that the more faculty and staff provide their students with opportunities for intentional reflection, the more Latinx students will feel empowered to draw from their cultural assets in realizing their academic and career goals. This, to me, is the essence of being a Hispanic Serving Institution.
In Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges & Universities, Gina Garcia offers a Typology of HSI Organizational Identities, in which she defines “Latinx-serving” as:
Institutions that enroll the minimum 25% Latinx students needed to become federally designated as an HSI, produce an equitable number of outcomes for Latinx students, and enact a culture that enhances the educational and racial/ethnic experience of Latinx students. (Garcia 32)
Typology of HSI Organizational Identities
Latinx-serving spans far beyond a percentage point. Garcia goes on to state that members of a truly Latinx-serving institution make sense of their HSI organizational identity, drawing on deeply embedded cultural practices and norms that are grounded in Latinx ways of knowing and being. Garcia challenges us to expand the indicators (metrics) we use to measure Latinx student success and our commitment to the embodiment of a Latinx-serving identity (17).
Ideal Latinx-Serving Identity Indicators
The Performance Based Funding metrics set forth by the State of Florida (e.g., graduation rates, graduate school enrollment, employment, etc.) merely provide a starting point in our discussion about Latinx student success. “Given the historically marginalized status of Latinas/os in the United States, it is essential that they leave college not only with baccalaureate degrees and the requisite knowledge to excel professionally, but also with a sense of empowerment that positions them for success in American society: outcomes that represent empowerment can thus also serve as indicators of Latina/o student success” (Cuellar 103-104). This resource page is designed to assist faculty/staff members in empowering Latinx students to critically reflect on their cultural assets as strengths that can contribute to academic success.
Funds of Knowledge
Leslie Gonzales, in a 2015 article, highlights “funds of knowledge” as a framework in defining cultural assets. Citing the 2011 work of Cecilia Ríos-Aguilar et. al., she defines the notion of “funds” as “the competence and knowledge embedded in the life experiences of underrepresented [communities]” (Ríos-Aguilar et. al., qtd. in Gonzales 126). This historical, cultural and socially relevant knowledge can be creatively applied across a variety of disciplines. The following four steps can help faculty tap into the potential of various funds of knowledge to effect positive educational outcomes. We can lean into each of these steps by engaging in integrative-learning:
Recognition involves the processes where funds of knowledge are intentionally identified and acknowledged.
• Provide space for students to verbally share their histories and lived experiences in the classroom.
• Have students incorporate their personal and familial experiences in relation to course assignments.
• Have students journal about their experiences in college and/or your course or have them engage in digital story-telling to understand what about their experiences led them to enroll in your course/area of study.
During my time at UCF, I have taught Strategies for Success (SLS 1501) [HIP] for the ACCESS summer bridge program and Foundations of Leadership (LDR 2001) for the LEAD Scholars Academy. In teaching those courses, I encouraged students to share their thoughts in small and large group discussions, while actively validating experiences, reinforcing that diverse perspectives are an intricate part of the learning experience, and helping students process differing opinions. Many of my students were first-generation, low-income, and students of color, and I understood that it was my responsibility to help them understand the value (funds of knowledge) that they brought to the classroom so that they could tap into their potential. The mandatory Academic Activity for Financial Aid was a discussion post in web courses – “Welcome! Let’s get to know each other – Tell us who you are and why you’re here!” STEM faculty may consider asking – “Name a ____________ (Biologist/Computer Scientist/Engineer/Mathematician, etc.) you admire and tell us why.”
These open-ended, exploratory questions provide faculty with insight on students’ ways of knowing and being.
Transmission entails providing the cultural and ideological tools necessary to transform funds of knowledge into capital for useful purposes.
• Encourage students to explore current scholarship in your discipline and to develop research projects and questions that address their histories, their heritage, and related cultural traditions.
• Make a concerted effort to provide students with readings that allow them to grapple with their own experiences and set their experiences in relation to history or broader phenomena.
• Encourage students to develop projects that explore achievements, opportunities, or challenges that are relevant to them, their families, or the greater regional community.
Faculty and professional advisors can help promote the value of cultural studies. As an undergraduate student, I was completely blown away by the fact that I could enroll in classes with a focus on the Latino experience in the United States and Latin American history, culture, and politics.
I remember being in awe as I reviewed syllabi filled with articles and books written by Latinos or about Latinos. Having been educated via traditional curricula in the K-12 public school system in New York City, this was the first time I saw myself as an asset in class. The sense of pride I felt in that moment fueled my motivation to learn more about myself and Latino thought leaders. All my papers in college and through my graduate education where focused on the Latino community and contributions. I was empowered by my ability to apply my cultural experiences to classroom discussions and assignments, and I was determined to expand this important body of knowledge.
UCF currently offers a B.A. and a Minor in Latin American Studies. Let us empower our Latinx students by encouraging them to enroll in these courses to learn more about their rich cultures and Latinx contributions. UCF Abroad also provides various opportunities to study abroad [HIP] in Latin America. While some of our Latinx students may visit family in Latin America regularly, there is value in helping them understand the differentiated context between family visits and cultural immersion through an academic lens. I came to this very realization in 2007, when I had the opportunity as a graduate student to participate in a study abroad program at la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. I had visited my family in Puerto Rico countless times; Navigating the campus library entirely in Spanish was a new and profound experience for me.
Conversion is the process in which students and families convert their funds of knowledge into forms of capital.
Latinx students who are native Spanish-speakers can convert their Spanish-language ability into capital, by strengthening their Spanish-language skills in their specific fields of study, thereby increasing their competitive advantage in the job market. The ability to communicate in Spanish in the State of Florida, across the United States, and Latin America is a cultural asset Latinx students should be empowered to capitalize on.
Moreover, students of all backgrounds can benefit greatly from learning Spanish (or any another language) in college. Ideally, this would go beyond the foreign language proficiency requirement (one year of college instruction) and expand through students’ programs of study. As the model Hispanic-Serving Institution that we aspire to be, let us empower our students to intentionally reflect on the return on investment of producing and sharing discipline-specific knowledge bilingually.
UCF’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures offers four discipline-specific Spanish certificate programs:
These certificate programs not only serve our students by enhancing their career prospects, but also provide a service at large to these industries and the people participant in or dependent on these service areas. Community engagement is one of the ideal Latinx-serving indicators highlighted by Garcia (30), and the intentional learning of language is purposefully aligned with serving and engagement. In a time, where we are all encouraged to think critically about what it means to be a twenty-first-century university, let us reflect on the significance of our Hispanic-Serving identity and the opportunity that we have to lead in this space. Some faculty members have already expressed an interest to me in teaching discipline-specific courses in Spanish, and our geographic proximity to Latin America lends itself to more potential partnerships that expand global ideas and citizenry. A twenty-first-century university is a global-minded, multilingual university that stretches our future leaders to be driven by transformation.
Lastly, mobilization is the process in which students engage to take advantage of an investment to achieve their academic and career goals.
• Help Latinx students move research projects toward presentation, publication, and wider dissemination, so that they can claim spaces of knowledge production within academia, allowing them to enter, challenge, or even slightly shift discourse (Gonzales 129).
• Encourage Latinx students to participate in Latinx-based professional networking organizations (e.g., Prospanica; Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA); Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE); National Association of Latino HealthCare Executives)
• Encourage Latinx students to participate in internship opportunities [HIP] geared toward their professional development (e.g., Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; HACU National Internship Program)
Pay attention to whether your Latinx students are participating in the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence (SURE) [HIP], or if they are traveling to regional/national conferences to present their ideas and engage with professionals in their fields. The professional organizations noted above are just a few examples, and all host annual gatherings that students can take advantage of – if supported financially by their student government and/or their academic departments. These Latino-centered opportunities are an important investment, because they provide a much-needed space for Latinx students to see themselves in the Latinx professionals they interact with. Those interactions can lead to them better understanding the value of their cultural assets and help them further explore social topics that matter to them and their communities. These are inclusive spaces that welcome all who wish to participate, while providing a Latino lens that is often omitted from mainstream opportunities. I have attended some of these conferences myself and am always uplifted by the excitement and appreciation in the students’ eyes.
Plan – Connect – Reflect
“HSIs are spaces where a critical mass of underrepresented students (e.g., Latina/o, first-generation, low-income) can be encouraged to see themselves as knowers, thinkers, and theorists” (Gonzales 125). Providing a positive, culturally engaging campus that values students’ ways of knowing is essential to effectively serving Latinx students at UCF and can ultimately contribute to other student learning outcomes in general. As Latinx students plan their academic and career goals, they are better served by strengthening their ability to make connections between their cultural assets (funds of knowledge) and their fields of study through intentional reflection. This resource page was constructed through a Latino lens, but the four steps provided to tap into funds of knowledge can help support the integrative learning of all students. The life experiences of our students should be implemented through an asset-based approach in the learning process. I am excited about our continued journey as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and hope that this resource page has inspired you to be an HSI Champion and contribute to our university-wide effort in a meaningful way.
 Latinx is used as a gender-neutral, non-binary alternative to Latino and Latina. These terms appear as they do in the original cited text. Personal use of Latinx and Latino is meant to acknowledge diverse perspectives relating to self-identification. ‘Hispanic’ is only utilized here when referring to the federal institutional designation.
Link to Scholarly Reference(s)
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco; Aunt Lute Book Company, 1987.
Cuellar, Marcella. “The Impact of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Emerging HSIs, and Non-HSIs on Latina/o Student Success Academic Self-Concept.” Review of Higher Education 37, no. 4 (2014): 499-530.
Garcia, Gina A. Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Opportunities for Colleges & Universities. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.
Garcia, Gina. “Defined by Outcomes or Culture?: Constructing an Organizational Identity for Hispanic-Serving Institutions.” American Educational Research Journal 54, no.1S (2017): 111S-34S. doi:10.3102/0002831216669779
Gonzales, Leslie D. “The Horizon of Possibilities: How HSI Faculty Can Reshape the Production and Legitimization of Knowledge within Academia.” In Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Advancing Research and Transformative Practice. Edited by S. Hurtado, A.M. Núñez, & E. Calderon-Galdeano. 121-235. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Moll, Luis, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma González. “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.” Theory into Practice 31, no.2 (1992): 132-41.
Núñez, Anne-Marie, Sylvia Hurtado, and Emily Calderón Galdeano. Hispanic-Serving Institutions: Advancing Research and Transformative Practice. New York; Routledge, 2015.
Ríos-Aguilar, Cecilia, Judy Márquez Kimaya, and Michael Gravitt. “Funds of Knowledge for the Poor and Forms of Capital for the Rich? A Capital Approach to Examining Funds of Knowledge.” Theory and Research in Education 9, no.2 (2011): 163-84.