As more and more Latino students enroll at Illinois State, a new effort is underway to create the University’s first-ever alumni network specifically for Latino Redbirds.

Organizers are planning an open event May 29 in Chicago to lay the foundation for the Latino alumni group and brainstorm what it could become. On-campus groups such as the Organization of Latino/a Employees (OLE) and Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) provide great support and networking opportunities for current students and employees, but this new group could expand upon those successes by reaching Latinos who have since left the University, said Bob Navarro ’91, M.S. ’93, Ph.D. ’02.

“What we’re trying to do with the alumni group is rekindle those connections,” said Navarro, the Alumni Association board vice president who is helping launch the Latino network.

Illinois State’s increasingly diverse student body shows why now is the time to create a Latino alumni network, organizers say. The number of Hispanic students at Illinois State has more than doubled in the past 10 years, to nearly 1,400 students (7 percent of enrollment) in fall 2013. The University now has nearly 3,000 living Hispanic alumni, with more than half of those graduating since 2000.

The new Latino alumni network, which doesn’t yet have a formal name, hopes to reach Redbirds from multiple age groups, starting with those in the Chicago area, said Jaime Flores ’80. Flores, along with Navarro and Alumni Association board member Daniel Lopez Jr., Ph.D. ’02, is spearheading the May 29 event at Tamale Hut Café in Riverside, near Chicago. (Flores is the owner of the Tamale Hut.)

When Flores attended Illinois State, he was president of ALAS, but it was the only student group for Latinos on campus. Now, there are multiple student groups, giving younger Redbirds (including his alumna daughter, now 23) more outlets to connect with one another and ease the transition to college life.

“We’re hoping alumni see the value in reaching back and reconnecting with the University,” said Flores, a past member of Illinois State’s Board of Trustees.

Flores said they were inspired to create the group, in part, by seeing the success of Illinois State’s Black Colleagues Association (BCA). The Latino alumni leaders hope to emulate BCA’s history of well-attended events, fundraising for scholarships, and mentoring of students, Flores said.

“They’ve been around for years. They have sustainability,” Flores told STATEside. “That’s what you want to see. You don’t want to see something start and see it fade out.”

To register for the May 29 event, contact Alumni Relations at (309) 438-2586 or (800) 366-4478, or visit Registration is requested by Monday, May 26.

Ryan Denham can be reached at