GVSU President Thomas Haas to be honored at Chávez gala

Arpan Lobo

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas will be honored at the 13th annual César E. Chávez Hispanic Excellence Scholarship and Community Awards Gala Thursday, Oct. 19. The gala will be held in the L.V. Eberhard Center on GVSU’s Pew Campus and will begin at 6 p.m.

Haas will be receiving the Hispanic Advocate Award, an award given to a non-Hispanic individual who “exemplifies the Chávez legacy enhancing the upward mobility of the Hispanic community.”

“I was very touched,” Haas said. “When one receives honors, one also has to understand how many other people should be recognized for their efforts as well. My time in the service (more than 23 years of commission in the U.S. Coast Guard) really demonstrated that to me time and again that the reason that we achieve the outcomes we want is through the efforts of so many.”

According to the GVSU Office of Institutional Analysis Factbook, the university has 1,176 Hispanic or Latino students currently enrolled in undergraduate programs. In 2007, the first recorded year shown on the Factbook, GVSU had 633 Hispanic or Latino students. Haas’ first year as president of the university was 2006.

Under Haas’ leadership, several inclusion and equity initiatives have been started.  

“We were one of the first universities in the country to create a vice president of inclusion and equity,” Haas said. “It is very rewarding to see some of our strategic decisions (succeed) because what we want to do is create a climate (in) that all who join us, this extended family we call GVSU, are able to succeed.”

The successes Haas referenced are evident in GVSU’s graduation rate for Hispanic or Latino students, which is among the highest in the state.

“We have one of the highest graduation rates for Latino students amongst the 15 public universities (in Michigan),” he said. GVSU also has the fourth highest enrollment of Hispanic or Latino students of the 15 Michigan public institutions.

In 2016, Haas became the first university president in Michigan to join Excelencia in Education’s Presidents for Latino Student Success, an organization dedicated to accelerating the success of Hispanic and Latino students by using data and analysis to determine the factors that have an impact on student success.

Other programs, like Laker Familia Orientation started in 2014, have been instituted under the Division of Inclusion and Equity.

Noemi Jimenez, president of Laker Familia and a part of the original Laker Familia cohort, has seen the strides GVSU has made in creating a positive atmosphere for Hispanic and Latino students.

“There was a gap in between incoming (Hispanic and Latino) students and them actually succeeding,” she said. “What Laker Familia does, first, it provides them resources. It shows them what departments are on campus (that) can help them, which faculty and staff are on hand ready to talk to them, ready to help them sort out their issues or connect them to advisers that would help them with their majors.

“The second big thing that it does is that it creates an environment for Latino students to succeed.”

Connecting students to faculty and staff with resources to help has made a positive impact at GVSU, according to Jimenez.

“I think that’s really important when we talk about retention rates,” she said. “It’s more difficult for Latinos to find people to relate to them. Laker Familia gives them the opportunity to meet those students before they even start classes.”

In addition to more Hispanic and Latino resources, Haas is also proud of the efforts made for all groups of individuals on campus. 

“I would call it a kind of intersection,” he said. “When we identify diversity, inclusion and equity, we have significant infrastructure to help our students across the entire campus.”

Resources such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute have had an on-campus presence at GVSU under Haas’ leadership.

“I think the Division of Inclusion and Equity is really hands on,” Jimenez said. “The different centers that are involved, … they’re really hands on. When I talk to other students at Grand Valley, and when I talk to faculty and staff that are involved in this division, to me, they don’t feel like administration. To me, they feel like family.”

Individuals interested in attending the gala can purchase a ticket at www.gvsu.edu/inclusion/17cecgala.  Tickets are $100, and the proceeds benefit the Lupe Ramos-Montigny Legacy Endowed Scholarship at GVSU.