In early April 2017, the Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje opened—a learning center created to serve Chicago’s southwest communities. The Centro de Aprendizaje, located at 3948 West 55th Street, will afford local high school students and residents access to higher education by providing technology resources and the mentorship needed to successfully transition to college.
For Claudia Lule, associate campus director of the Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje, the new center is an initiative close to her heart. As a first-generation student from a low-income family, Lule did not learn English until the first grade, a situation similar to many of the students in the area.
“As a Latina, I look like our students, which I feel helps them relate to me, and it starts to build a trusting relationship,” said Lule.
Lule understands the impact education can have on a person’s life. “Through education, we can make a difference in people’s lives and that hits close to home,” she says.
Managing the new center combines many of Lule’s passions and experiences. Starting in 2006, Lule worked for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), a national organization that provides scholarships to Latino students. While working for the HSF, she ran different outreach programs throughout the Midwest, teaching students about preparing and paying for college. In 2012, Lule was brought on board with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as a Family and Community Engagement manager.
The relationships she cultivated during her time with CPS have proved to be valuable in her new role at the Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje. It was here that she was inspired to work within these communities and was driven to make a difference.
When Lule first heard about the plans for the new Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje, she knew she wanted to be a part of the initiative. The position of associate campus director combined all of her interests and past experiences into one role. With her extensive experience and passions for the Latino community and education, she was selected to help pioneer the new center.
Lule has been involved in many stages of bringing the center to fruition. She has been critical in building connections in the community and talking to people about the center. Part of her continual outreach efforts includes meeting with the administration at the area high schools and going into classrooms to talk to students. Lule says when meeting with students she gets “really candid with them, and essentially, I share my personal story.”
As 90 percent of the population in the southwest Chicago community identify as Latino, the new center addresses some of the unique challenges present in this community to better support students and their families. Lule believes that one of the biggest things the center has to offer is the bilingual support. Lule, who is fluent in both English and Spanish, says being able to speak to people in the language they are most familiar with helps provide comfort and builds trust. “Often students become the translators to their families, and at times, meaning can be lost. We want to be able to help with that transfer of information,” she said.
Lule says there are unique challenges Latino students may face when applying to college and successfully completing their degrees. There could be a language barrier getting in the way, or they may be first-generation students who are unsure of which path to take. There are also many cultural differences. In some families, for instance, young women are not encouraged to go to college. For other high school students, continuing their education is not a top priority. Some students in this community may have financial concerns and put off school so they can dedicate their time and energy to supporting themselves and their families.
“We find many families just don’t understand the process of going from high school to college. We often see parents who understand the importance of education and want to be involved but they just don’t understand how. We will help provide the resources they need to feel confident in the process,” Lule says.
Creating the Centro de Aprendizaje is an extension of the work Rasmussen College has been doing with the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) for seven years. AUSL is a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking down technological and financial barriers many Chicago public high school students and community members may face when pursuing a college education. The new center is the next step in supporting this partnership and helping the community. Only 53 percent of families living near the Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje have regular access to the internet, which is perhaps one of the biggest barriers for people in this area. The center will help provide the technology and other tools some students may be lacking. It will also be a place of support and mentorship that these students need to pursue their higher education goals.
When asked what she is most excited about, Lule says she is “excited about being able to work with the Latino community and having the potential to make a difference in a student’s life. Ultimately, I am excited to see the impact the Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje will have on the community.”
“I would love to be seen as a mentor to the students and community members who come through the door,” Lule said. The Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje is the first learning center of its kind in Chicago and with the dedication of many, including Claudia Lule, it is bound to provide the access to higher education that the community deserves.
Click here to learn more about the new Rasmussen College Centro de Aprendizaje.