Psychology professor provides Latino(a) students with mentors through nonprofit organization


El Camino College psychology professor Roberto Montes presents a lecture on credibility and critical thinking to his class Tuesday, Oct. 8. Montes thought about majoring in child development until he fell in love with psychology, he said. Khalida Jamilah/The Union

Growing up, there were no Latino(a) scientists, engineers or mathematicians for Roberto Montes to look up to, so he wasn’t sure what he wanted to be.

They weren’t on TV, in the media or anywhere in his family; he felt he lacked a role model.

It wasn’t until he started working with students later in life that he understood that if they had a role model to inspire them, they could go on to pursue any career they wanted.

Montes is an adjunct psychology professor at El Camino College who started the Latino Community Stage with the idea to present role models and mentors to young aspiring students, he said.

He created an organization that provides a platform to help students answer one question: “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

“Stage comes from the idea that our goal is to put Latino and Latina STEM role models on a global stage, on a public stage where everybody can see them,” Montes said.

As a young man, Montes attended community college, trying to major in child development.

But as soon as he took a couple of psychology classes and fell in love, he said.

“It answered life questions for me,” Montes said.

After receiving a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in psychology, Montes decided to pursue his doctorate in education.

When Montes was working on his graduate degree, he discovered through his research that there were a low number of Latino(a) role models working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)

“They’re in the single digits as far as percentages. That’s bad,” Montes said.

During the 2017-2018 academic year approximately 45% of the students who pursued a career in STEM at ECC who graduated with an associate of science (AS) degree, were Latino(a), according to the latest ECC Annual Factbook.

However, only 17% of all Latinos that year pursued an AS.

Through the nonprofit Latino Community Stage, students can interact and be mentored by Latinos and Latinas in STEM, which includes doctors, entrepreneurs and engineers.

El Camino College psychology professor Roberto Montes pulls up the Latino Community Stage website onto the class projector Thursday, Oct. 8. Montes created the Latino Community Stage to provide Latino(a) students with mentors in the STEM field. Khalida Jamilah/The Union

Montes began sharing their stories on the Latino Community Stage website to encourage students to keep pursuing their goals.

“I’ve learned that the more people we can help, the more people we can build to give back to that next generation,” Montes said.

Carmen Flores, an ECC student who took Montes’ class in the past, said Montes introduced her to the Latino Community Stage after she asked for further learning opportunities.

“He has a very detailed yet simple way of explaining things to where you resonate with the material,” Flores said.

That’s when she attended a Latino Community Stage workshop on memory and learning, which taught her how to approach a difficult situation effectively without avoiding it altogether, Flores said.

“That workshop really helped me find a new approach, learning strategies that kind of helped me structure my environment to enhance my learning and my studying,” Flores said.

As a Latina herself, Flores said she hopes the Latino Community Stage receives more acknowledgment as it has become a platform for people who have struggled before finding success.

“I feel that as a minority we’re not acknowledged as much as we should be,” Flores said. “[But] we all can do it if you really put your mind to it and you have that support.”

ECC alumna Mariana Calderon, who also took a psychology course with Montes, said Montes’ is a passionate professor that enjoys helping students.

Calderon found out about the Latino Community Stage after Montes brought it up to her Psychology 5: General Psychology class towards the end of the semester.

Calderon said she was inspired by the stories of successful Latinos and Latinas on the Latino Community Stage’s website.

“Being Latino you kind of don’t really see other leaders or other people or students that actually have been successful in their career,” Calderon said. “I think the greatest thing is that as a student you get to see like a reflection of yourself.

For more information about the Latino Community Stage, visit their website here.

Editor-in-Chief Fernando Haro contributed to this article.