Underrepresented communities face a host of challenges when it comes to obtaining a college degree. The University at Albany is being recognized for making it a priority to ensure every student has an equal chance to succeed.

UAlbany is the first SUNY institution, and college in the state, to earn the Seal of Excelencia. The honor is given to universities focused on Latino and Latina success.

“We were really taken by the challenge to demonstrate what we do with evidence and not merely proclaim our values, but demonstrate with evidence what we are able to accomplish,” says Gilbert Valverde, the vice provost for global strategy.

To get the seal, the university had to provide data showing its commitment.

For example, in 2012, less than 14% of UAlbany’s incoming freshman class was Hispanic or Latino. Fast forward to this year, and almost 21.5% of the freshman class identifies that way. The school has also seen higher retention and graduation rates.

It’s part of the reason Channel Castro, a sociology and pre-education student from the Bronx, chose to enroll in UAlbany. She says while the campus is not as diverse as her hometown, she doesn’t have to look far to find other students with similar backgrounds.

“I grew up being around a lot of diverse people, so when I was looking for a school, I wanted to find a school that fit the criteria,” says Castro.

But according to Valverde, there’s always room to improve.

“Every student enters the university with the expectation of succeeding, so until 100% of our students succeed, we won’t have entirely met our goal,” says Valverde.

UAlbany President Dr. Havidan Rodriguez is also making sure this happens on a national level. He was recently named to the White House’s President’s Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.

“It’s incredibly important that we focus on facilitating the process to come into a university, to get a college degree, to remove the barriers that impede students from graduating from high school and then going on to obtain a university degree. So what are the challenges? What are the obstacles and what are the opportunities to ensure the success of our communities across the country?” says Rodriguez.

Those are questions the commission hopes to answer.

For Castro, the answer has been finding her community on campus, something she encourages other students to do.

“Don’t be scared, because you’ll be able to find your group of people, whether you feel like it’s taking too long your freshman year. Don’t stop reaching out,” says Castro.