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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ask Bobby #12
September 25, 2023

A través de la lente de Latino (Through the Latino Lens)

Education, economic development, demographics and immigration are issues that affect most people, but researchers at the Mauricio Gaston Institute are particularly concerned on the effects those issues have on the Latino community. “This is a community that is growing, but that continues to be on the fringes and marginalized in a lot of ways,” stated Associate Director Melissa Colón. “We’re committed to making sure that the issues this group is confronting are on the forefront of policymaking, and that our information is really based on research.”

Primarily a research institution, the Gaston Institute works to examine how the Latino community is affected by various policies and programs, and makes recommendations on how results can be improved. Colón stressed that although the institute accumulates and analyzes data, they also focus on developing comprehensive recommendations that can be utilized by a wide range of stakeholders. “We want the research that we produce to be useful to our partners and the community at large,” Colón explained. “It is academic, but I call it academic plus; it’s more than just research for the academy, it’s also research for students, for the community, for policy makers. We try to serve a large constituency.”

In its almost 20 years of research and work, the Gaston Institute has become the go-to place for those interested in learning about the Latino community. The institute has worked with schools, legislators and community groups to help them better understand the needs of Latinos and how those needs can be met. A recent project involved the Latino After-School Initiative, a statewide organization that funds after-school programs, which evaluates how effective programs are for Latino students and develops future planning for programs. Although their findings are focused on the Latino community, Colón pointed out that the Gaston Institute’s recommendations often benefit other groups and students as well.

In addition to reaching out to regional communities, the Gaston Institute also works to engage the UMass Boston community in its mission and research. Continuing its standing as the longest-running lecture series on campus, the institute will be hosting a free public lecture on April 24, complete with a “real food” reception (more than just pizza and chips!). Work-study and research positions are also available for UMB students. “We’re very committed to student development,” Colón said. “We like to provide opportunities for our own students to learn about research, research analysis and policy evaluation. We really believe that our students are one of our greatest assets, and we try to involve them as much as we can in our different projects.” She also emphasized that the institute is a great resource for UMB students looking for information or who have questions about the Latino community.

Another opportunity the institute offers is the Latino Leadership Opportunities Program, a 3-credit course offered each spring open to any undergrad student interested in research, community engagement, policy and leadership skills. At end of the semester, students go to Washington, D.C. to experience policymaking on a federal level and witness the impact research and engagement has on national policy. Colón noted that this program has a lasting impact on participants; many students involved go on to work with legislators and community- and advocacy-based organizations. She said, “We like to believe that part of the reason they continue to do that work is because of their involvement in our program.”