When Ingris Duarte first registered for classes at Salt Lake Community College three years ago, she didn’t do it alone.
Her very first steps were guided by mentors and leaders at ESL (English as a Second Language) Legacy Mentors, a peer-to-peer program at SLCC that aims to facilitate success for incoming nontraditional students.
“When I entered the school website for the first time, it [was] a little difficult to understand, and sometimes [I didn’t] know who to ask,” Duarte said. “One of the topics covered by the ESL Legacy Mentors program was … everything about the college website.”
Duarte noted this experience as a turning point in her educational journey. She now serves as vice president for the Legacy Mentors program. Duarte said that seeing the motivation and dedication of leaders within the program inspired her to give back to current ESL students.
“Helping others is not so much what we receive; rather, what we give is more important … Sometimes giving is more satisfying than receiving,” she said.
Learning a new language while in college can be filled with many challenges. Luz Gamarra, founder of the Legacy Mentors program, explained how it works to provide guidance and resources to SLCC students who face that challenge, aiding them in their success.
“The ESL Legacy Mentors program … helps ESL students who face barriers such as a new language, culture shock, self-doubt and being unfamiliar [with] the college application process,” Gamarra explained. “It was developed in response to the challenges ESL students face at personal, community and institutional levels, including transfer procedures.”
Cinthia Gonzales Ronquillo, a student transition coordinator and Legacy Mentors program leader, said the program not only helps students who are learning English, but also guides them towards other paths offered at SLCC.
Gonzales Ronquillo said she was initially only interested in studying English so that she could get a job. However, the Legacy Mentors program guided her to pursue a wholistic education, and in May 2022, she graduated with an associate degree in interior design.
Gonzales Ronquillo now works to motivate others, sharing with them the same resources and opportunities that she received when taking her first steps.
“It is an opportunity for all students … to begin the process of meeting educational goals,” she said.
Marilyn Gallardo, the current president of the program, also began as a student. While at SLCC, a classmate introduced her to the benefits and community that could be found through ESL Legacy Mentors. Gallardo soon realized an opportunity to both achieve academic goals and help others discover new possibilities at SLCC.
“This program helps people know that there is a great opportunity for those who really want to learn English to study here at Salt Lake Community College,” Gallardo said. “They can take advantage of the scholarships and all the resources that exist.”
Leaders within the Legacy Mentors program use a WhatsApp group chat to communicate with more than 500 students, answering their questions and providing information about opportunities and resources.
Currently, the program holds two workshops per month, where they provide school information for members of the general community. Gonzales Ronquillo said the workshops led her to the school’s counseling center, food pantry, and eventually, ESL express registration – an in-person event where prospective students receive assistance from different departments of the college to ease the class registration process.
“I know that it is difficult to be able to complete all those steps for a person who does not know English,” Gallardo said. “So, that creates a bit of a barrier … it can make other people stop taking advantage of this opportunity out of fear. If we do express registrations, they will feel more supported to take the step and thus achieve their goals.”
Giving back not only helps students but the leaders also. This has been the case for Duarte, Gallardo and Gonzales Ronquillo, all of whom began their degree programs at SLCC as ESL students before becoming mentors themselves.
“The leaders are there to empower, motivate and assist their ESL peers in reaching their academic goals,” Gamarra reiterated.
To learn more about the ESL Legacy Mentors program at SLCC, visit linktr.ee/slcc_eslprogram and navigate to the “Student Support” section. From there, students can join the WhatsApp group to receive more information.