Latino Studies Grants Certificates to Its Largest Graduating Class To Date

Author: Institute for Latino Studies

Last Spring, the Institute for Latino Studies celebrated the graduation of more than a dozen Latino Studies students in a ceremony at Bond Hall on May 18, 2019.

Since 2005, the ILS has provided students with the ability to both major and minor in Latino Studies, in addition to offering many different opportunities for volunteering, networking, and professional development. The graduation ceremony for majors and minors provided seniors a chance to reflect on their experiences at the ILS and the role of the institute in their undergraduate careers.

Professor Luis Fraga, the director of the ILS and endowed professor of political science at Notre Dame, marked the occasion with a speech in both English and Spanish to an audience of over 100 students, faculty, and family members.

“You have achieved a major milestone,” Fraga said. “That is, an unquestionable indication of your superior intelligence, never-ending commitment, and your capacity to persevere.”

Given the political climate, their choice to pursue Latino Studies was a telling sign of their moral and ethical commitments, Fraga told the audience. In addition, Fraga urged the graduates to carry their experiences forward to the next generation and continue the mission of fighting for a better, “more inclusive” world.

Jacqueline Collins, a graduating senior from Chicago who majored in management and consulting and minored in Latino Studies, talked to the audience about how she discovered “her true passion” through the Institute for Latino Studies, fulfilling her desire to “bridge the gap between my cultural identity and my studies.” 

Her junior year, she took a community-based course in which she taught English as a second language at a local non-profit in South Bend called La Casa de La Amistad. The experience turned out to be one of the most meaningful experiences of her undergraduate career. Looking forward, Collins plans on pursuing a PhD in Latino Studies and founding a nonprofit aimed at aiding Latino students in their professional and educational development. 

Alec Helmke, a history and pre-health double major with a minor in Latino Studies, told the audience how growing up in a small town in southcentral Wisconsin he wasn’t exposed to many diverse cultures. However, taking Spanish courses at Notre Dame, and spending his junior year in Pueblo, Mexico, became some of the most significant aspects of his time at the university.

“My experiences helped me to develop a more understanding and inclusive attitude as an aspiring physician going forward,” Helmke said.

Kevin Perez Botello, a finance major and Latino Studies minor from Round Lake Beach, IL, recalled how much he enjoyed American Studies professor Jason Ruiz’s “Latinos in American Film” course. The class was his “favorite class at Notre Dame, by far” and motivated him to take more courses and even minor in Latino Studies.

For Leslie Vergara, an accounting and Latino Studies double major from Riverside, CA, the Institute for Latino Studies has been critical in her development as an aspiring community leader.

Like many others, Leslie Vergara was able to gain valuable, summer job experience as an intern and student in ILS’s Cross Cultural Leadership Program. Latino Studies supplementary majors and minors receive priority to secure one of 23 placements provided across the nation. Students live in community with four ND students, work fulltime in 8 week immersive service-learning opportunities, and receive a modest stipend for food and transportation.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Leslie emphasized how prominent the Latino population has become in recent years, and the need to learn about her own culture before serving this vital demographic. Through good and bad, the ILS has supported her socially and academically, and for that she is extremely grateful, she said.

“I have also fostered my passion for education and providing access to underserved communities. ILS has been my rock throughout my time here.”

To enrich your experience at ND with a supplementary major or minor in Latino Studies, contact Dr. Karen Richman, ILS Director of Undergraduate Studies at