“We all support each other” | The Colombian Association of American Students Forms a Close-Knit Community in Penn State | University Park Campus News
Samantha Escobar joined the Colombian American Student Association at Penn State in her freshman year in order to connect her with her culture.
Without CASA, Escobar (a history and political science student) said she wouldn’t have the close friends she has now.
The club continues to represent Colombian culture by uniting philanthropy with friendship for its members, Escobar said, and is now focused on expanding its presence on campus.
“I know that [we]Colombians in general are very welcoming and close-knit, like a family,” she said.
Escobar is currently secretary of CASA and executive vice president of the Latino Caucus.
“I come from a predominantly white area and wanted to find a place that allowed me to really express my culture, something that I felt like I hadn’t been able to do until now,” said Escobar said.
One of Escobar’s goals as CASA secretary, she said, is to get the club involved in THON through the Latino Caucus. The caucus plans to return to THON this coming spring after a hiatus.
Escobar described Penn State’s Colombian community as “inviting,” “community-based,” and “philanthropic.”
Of the club’s many initiatives, Escobar said CASA is most proud of an initiative started by the previous board. In collaboration with World Vision International, a non-profit religious organization, the club financially sponsored a young Colombian girl.
“We basically sponsored her, so through a website, we were giving monthly donations, and we were in turn informed about how the child was doing,” Escobar said. “It was a really cool experience.”
For the future of the club, Escobar said she was trying to focus on networking by implementing a “Career Building Day”, when the club would focus on setting up CASA members for their future careers and internships with the help of LinkedIn, portraits and CVs. .
“It’s something that’s important to us as an organization,” Escobar said. “Yes, we are a club, but we have a duty to organize ourselves.”
In order to expand the club and improve its presence on campus, Escobar said she wants to improve CASA’s presence on campus through food sales and other activities.
“At the end of the day, what drives you the most is seeing something in person that really motivates you,” Escobar said.
Significant support for the club, according to Escobar, comes from members of different cultures – since anyone from any culture is welcome to join CASA.
About a quarter to half of the club’s members, Escobar said, are not Colombians themselves.
“They’re there to support us but also because it’s a community,” she said.
Escobar said she was determined, alongside board members, to have the biggest impact the club has ever had, not least because of fewer coronavirus restrictions – which she says have hampered club expansion in the past.
“We want Latinos to be heard, and this is the year to really come out strong,” Escobar said.
Treasurer and fundraising president Sebastian Lopez joined CASA in his second year after deciding to reach out and seek out people with similar backgrounds to him.
“I needed to unify and work on what the club is supposed to mean to all of us,” said Lopez (junior engineer-nuclear).
He said one of his biggest motivations for attending Penn State was the size of the school, since he was from a small town.
“I found this club and found so many people who look like me…that’s how I met most people I know,” Lopez said.
Lopez said what unites many members is the shared similarities between their culture, music and food.
“It doesn’t matter where we come from; we have that part in common,” Lopez said.
Regarding fundraising for the club, Lopez said he plans to organize cultural events, such as cooking competitions and meetings with other organizations.
Currently, CASA is working to host an event for incoming freshmen for Pride Month with a potential guest speaker from the LGBTQ community.
“We want to give freshmen a space to share their ideas and where they can be themselves,” Lopez said.
CASA being a recent addition to the Latino Caucus, Lopez said he hopes to continue the work of the group so that students joining next semester also have a place to express themselves.
“Living in the United States gives us unique opportunities, so it’s comforting to know that we have this space no matter where we come from,” Lopez said.
Juan Mendez, former president of social media for CASA, said he enjoyed his position but hadn’t had the chance to execute on many of his ideas. This motivated him to become the club’s next president.
Mendez (Junior and Spanish Broadcast Journalism) described CASA as a group where everyone wants to stay as close as possible by constantly updating each other and maintaining communication.
Mendez said there had been a significant improvement in the club’s engagement thanks to several events that took place the previous year, such as “El Obleaso”, an event centered on the making of a Colombian wafer that raised funds for the organization.
“Colombian obleas are really good, and we had a contest to see who would make the best ones, and people really enjoyed it,” Mendez said.
The most recent collaboration that Mendez recalled as one of his favorites was a barbecue with the Korean Student Association.
“We had Colombian food like empanadas, and they did Korean barbecue,” Mendez said. “So we were able to mix two very unique cultures, and it was a lot of fun.”
Mendez said collaborations with other organizations and clubs are extremely important and said he looked forward to working with the Latino Caucus — what he called the “umbrella” of Latin American organizations on campus.
“I feel like it allows national organizations to really collaborate, do things together and have events that will draw people in even more,” Mendez said.
Past collaborations with other clubs also include a football watch party with the Peruvian Students Association.
“These little things are valuable, and I know people in any organization would want to be involved,” Mendez said.
Mendez also said it was important for the organization to live up to its ‘CASA’ name, which means ‘home’ in Spanish, as he said he wanted every member to feel at home. .
“We all support each other,” Mendez said.
Welcoming people from different countries who don’t necessarily have a community on campus is one of CASA’s many goals, he said, as well as providing a platform where students can speak their native language. to others.
“We want people in these countries to recognize or see at least one family in us and be able to unite in CASA,” Mendez said.
To get class members to come, Mendez said CASA will combine social media presence and accessibility.
“Being able to get our information and values out on social media so it’s easily accessible to others,” Mendez said, “is the most important thing.”
Mendez said the organization is currently working on how to get new members for the next class of 2026 by “capitalizing” on events like the Involvement Fair at the start of each semester.
“Even if you don’t know what it means, [I want people to] recognize it as CASA, a beautiful organization,” Mendez said. “I want it to be that big, if possible.”
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