Q and A with Gary Santana, Associate Professor/Counselor and SDC (Student Development and Counseling) Area Coordinator, Bluegrass Technical and Community College


The Hispanic-American Village has been in communication, for information and mutual support, with the Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky.  They are one of the first institutions of higher education to have tapped into the fast-growing Latino population in the southern states, and were equally fast in extending outreach to Latinos seeking higher learning.  Gary Santana wears multiple hats around BCTC’s 6 campuses as a professor and student counselor.  Professor Santana was kind enough to complete our e-mail Q and A, focusing on the intersecting needs of his student population and our readers.


Can you briefly summarize your duties as student development counselor?

As a counselor in Student Development and Counseling we are charged with many duties to assist students with attaining success at BCTC and beyond. First is counseling; we help students with personal issues that affect their lives.  In Career Counseling we attempt to help a student decide on what career field may be right for them, and in Academic Counseling we help a student take the appropriate courses to meet the requirements for their academic goals. Also we conduct various workshops for students on topics ranging from time management to maintaining balance in their lives to health issues. Finally we conduct 1 credit hour classes on Introduction to College, Stress Management, Career Planning, and Employability Skills.

With today’s sluggish economy, is it advisable to encourage students to enter the job market early, foregoing the B.A. or B.S. degree?

I am of the opinion that if it is possible the college degree is the better route to go (in general). It is well documented that the higher the level of education the more wages one can potentially earn. Please understand that while I agree ‘money isn’t everything’ realistically there are basics that must be provided for financially. Also things like family lifestyle and opportunities, often depends on financial ability.  If I may quote my grandfather, “would you rather have a hamburger at 5:00 or steak dinner at 7? “.

What are other incentives for counseling students to move on in their education from a 2-year to 4-year program?

Going from a two year to a four year program is an issue that would be discussed in career and academic counseling. Being a Community and Technical College we have many students who are using BCTC as a first step to four or more years while others are working on a particular trade skill. For the more ‘academic’ students who do plan to move on we will look at what academic degree(s) they are looking at and then look at what specific courses and skills they are going to need to attain those goals.

How can you motivate students who’d planned on an associate degree to go on to a 4-year program?

I see the decision to move onto a four or more year institution being an individual decision. I often ask students to think about what they want their lives to be like. What are their values? How much money do they wish to make? What size family are they planning on? What strengths do they possess? Deficits? Depending on their answers the discussion may be to look into pursuing a four or more year degree. We also encourage students to connect with someone in the community who is successful in the area of interest.

When is it a disadvantage to counsel a student to move on to a 4-year program?

Contrary to popular belief, the route to a four your program may not be suitable to everyone.Also let my say that probably has little or nothing to do with intelligence. Educational needs are not ‘one size fits all’; if a student’s needs, values desires and abilities are not compatible to a four year degree then it is a disservice to counsel them to move onto a four year degree.

Do your Latino students have needs that are in any way different from those of the rest of the student body?

It appears that some of the issues surrounding Latino Students are language, coupled with frustration in trying to go through a system that is unfamiliar to them. I have seen cases whereas the student could not get the answers they needed, sometimes they were unsure as to where to turn, and often felt isolated. We as a college have people and programs to address such needs but if you are new and or having difficulty keeping up with all of the information that has been presented then you may miss it.

Do your Latino students, with possible closer family ties and with many of them having left their family behind, have any identified problems adapting to a school environment or making career choices?

Quite often there are a few additional problems… One, quite often, is being ‘homesick’ and missing their family. Students in this situation may very well not know anyone, face difficult times during the ‘holidays’, and be concerned or preoccupied about the people and events back home. Many initially have a difficult time meeting new people, may have language issues that further complicate matters, and unfortunately, some experience friction due to racial issues.

Adaptation to the school environment may come from two places… first adapting to the School System in any foreign country may take some effort; adjusting to the different procedures, expectations, and attitudes of the new educational system can be a frustrating event. Also many or most of our students are the first in their family to go to college which means there may be no one to show them the way.  There may also be economic issues whereas the student may need to work as well as go to school. Last but not least is the fact that many families have sacrificed a lot to get them here  adding additional pressure.

How much of your training in family counseling have you taken with you to your work with students?  In what ways might that experience be of extra benefit to your students?

We have five counselors who have backgrounds in various areas of Counseling. My specific background/degree is in Marriage and Family… it is my personal belief that the family structure should be the most crucial element in a person’s life. I always consider the family in working with students regardless of the issue. I hope this is beneficial from the standpoint of making life decisions that are consistent with family values (whenever possible)… usually the more supportive the family is of a decision the higher the likelihood of success.

What are the most promising fields or careers for graduating BCTC students?

I would estimate that the most promising careers are in the healthcare and construction industries as well as computers.

Is there a special emphasis at BCTC being put on bio-tech careers?

We have recently added a program in Environmental Science Technology designed to give students the background necessary for understanding the ecological relationships of the environment with emphasis.

Can you relate one “success” story of a Latino/a student you’ve been able to counsel, perhaps against great odds, into an especially fulfilling job or career?

I once worked with a student who was in this country alone. He spoke English well enough to bypass the ESL classes but still occasionally ran into problems by not fully understanding the language. To make issues worse, he wanted to go into the medical field which often has a language of its own. Whenever he tried to have discussions with people he often found that it was pointless.  When he finally made it to my office he was frustrated, hopeless, and ready to quit.

We looked at the problems he was facing and began to address them one at a time. I answered his questions and connected him to others who could help. We looked at his skills and what skills he needed to work on more. We discussed if the medical field was the best fit for him; we looked at long range and short range goals. After he got on track he would from time to time come and check in with me; sometimes we would talk about important issues, sometimes we would just visit.

He was able to graduate and move on to work on a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Although we have not talked in a long time, I have no doubt that he is doing well. I also have no doubt that if he should run into any major problems he will call because even though he has moved on, my door is still open.


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