Hispanic-serving institution director tackles education
Tranquilino “Kino” Hurtado became Salt Lake Community College’s inaugural Hispanic-serving institution initiatives director in November 2022, poised for the challenge and opportunity of preparing the college for HSI designation.
SLCC is the first emerging HSI in Utah, and Hurtado shared his vision for equipping Hispanic students while also preparing the community for the new Title V designation.
Q: What is your new role and what led you to this position?
A: I’m the inaugural director for HSI, so there’s no blueprint for this one.
Prior to this, I was the director of a summer bridge program here at SLCC … housed under Student Affairs, specifically the orientation office. I was with that project for two years.
I’m originally from New Mexico. I did my undergrad at University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and did a master’s at New Mexico Highlands up in the northern part of the state. Both [institutions] are and have been historical HSIs since the ’90s, when this designation became available to higher ed.
I actually moved to Utah in the summer of 2020 to pursue my Ph.D. at the University of Utah in higher ed leadership and policy. So I think the stars kind of aligned here: my research really is around racialized organizational change and [why] that matters in the context of a predominantly white space and taking on that new identity. When the summer bridge position opened up, SLCC specifically funded that initiative [through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund]. And that’s when the dominoes sort of fell and led me to this position.
Q: What are your goals and ambitions for this role?
A: I do have a list of priorities. The first thing is really clarifying what it means to be an Hispanic-serving institution. There are no HSIs in Utah. Most of my colleagues have not worked at an HSI, and so they don’t necessarily know what it is or what it’s not.
More importantly, though, for students, or future students or parents, I think this is also really something we need to clear up. The resistance so far is that it has the potential to be racially exclusive, when we know that’s not the case. Obviously being an HSI is not limited to just Hispanic … students. But on the surface level, for somebody who’s never engaged with this work, it can sound like that. So step one is to clearly communicate what we are doing—more also, importantly, what we’re not doing.
Step two is really laying the foundation to lead an organizational change and the shift. That’s long-term; these are broad goals. That’s getting buy-in—we already have buy-in from our administration—but I’m talking more collegewide: the academic side of house, the deans and then the student affairs side of the house, really gathering some collaborators that are going to help us to start putting those pieces together that are going to allow this to really become a new identity that we have, so that we are an HSI in practice, not just a name.
I rely heavily on Gina Garcia’s research. She’s the national expert currently leading the way on all HSI-related things. And she is a systems person, so her framework is extremely useful in my situation when I help us understand: How are we categorized? Are we actually serving students? Are we just enrolling them? What does the service mean? It gives me a tool to then engage in those conversations with my colleagues.
The idea is, even as an emerging HSI, we definitely fall into that typology somewhere along the lines, and we want to push that towards the serving quadrant. So when that designation happens, we’re already acting like an HSI before we ever have Title V money.
Q: You also have a background in counseling and career services. How does that fit into your role and how you approach this work toward student success?
A: Career services was something that fell into my lap, and I’m so thankful that did, because it really helped me bookend this whole process.
We often talk about, “What’s your why?” When it comes to first-gen students, higher education opens doors. This is going to allow them to break into another socioeconomic status, so something new. If you have returning-generation students, oftentimes that’s about maintaining the lifestyle—which is great … But for first-gen students, the motivation is different, because this is something new.
And so, career services was helpful [experience] because it really allowed me to instill, beyond a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose—understanding that waiting for our students on the back end is huge. We can go down the road of “What’s the purpose of higher ed?” Is it to actually get a better job? Is it to improve your ability to be a citizen, civic duty? There are all these complications around it, and I argue it’s all of them. But depending on the student, some things are more important than others.
Q: What is your personal philosophy when it comes to student success? Where do you see your role fitting into student success initiatives?
A: I think it comes down to just being consistent. I don’t know if there is one common denominator around the students that we serve, because our student population is so very diverse. But there have been inconsistencies in their preparation—whether it was the K-12 system or just life in general, through adverse childhood experiences—so that’s the one thing we can do as student affairs professionals. Making sure that we’re trained, getting that education. Let’s do those master’s programs so that we have theory to back this up. When it comes to practical stuff: show up, and show up every day.
Q: Once SLCC receives the HSI designation, what kind of opportunities are you expecting to open up?
A: We have colleagues here who’ve been doing good stuff on behalf of our Latinx students for years. The issue we always run into is funding right or scaling these programs up across the campuses. SLCC is very large—we have 10 campuses spread out throughout the valley. We do good stuff, but we do it in pockets and we do it for a limited number of students, mostly because of our financial constraints. The HSI designation is going to do a couple of things: it’s going to professionalize those opportunities, and it’s going to create specific funding related to Title V. We can also serve students but also increase our faculty and recruit and retain more faculty of color who have a cultural response and lens pedagogy related to this work. It augments our ability to do this bigger. It’s already being done really great here, but bigger.
This college has done a really good job of hiring leaders who are unafraid. They know that there’s going to be consequences, but they do it because it’s the right thing to do. They are very brave, very dedicated. To have colleagues like that makes this job easier, but it also makes it much more enjoyable.
If your college or university has a professional in a brand-new position related to student success, let us know.