Alumnus, community builder leads Ethnic Student Center
By Tilly Chiles
Intern, WWU University Communications and Marketing
Since its start in 1991, the Ethnic Student Center has provided countless resources and support for underrepresented students of Western Washington University. Working to create a strong sense of community through social interaction and a safe environment, the ESC is an important program serving to the student community.
Nate Panelo, an '07 Western alumnus, is the coordinator
Ethnic Student Center, Western's home of 13 student clubs exploring
Photo by Maddy Mixter | University Communications
and Marketing Intern
“Our mission is to promote cultural awareness, identity exploration and academic excellence” says Nate Panelo, an ’07 graduate and newly appointed coordinator of the center. “We want to create a space for our students to be able to come here and feel like they can succeed in their classes; (we provide) resources and support for them inside and outside the classroom.”
Panelo was highly involved in the Ethnic Student Center while studying Human Services at Western and was an active member and eventual leader of the Filipino American Student Association. After receiving his master’s degree in student affairs and administration from the University of Vermont, Panelo returned to Western to become the ESC coordinator in May. He invites incoming students to see how the ESC can be a part of their Western experience.
Students in the 13 ESC clubs have many opportunities to come together and experience friendship, community, leadership and a sense of belonging. “They find their best friends here,” says Panelo, the clubs’ advsior. “When I was attending Western I found my best friends here.”
ESC student clubs are open to all students and include the Mixed Identity Student Organization, the Chinese Student Association, the Latino Student Union and many more. Every year, clubs coordinate events that highlight an aspect of the represented culture, from Black History Month celebrations to the Lowrider Show.
Click here to find the ESC on Facebook
Many students credit their success and graduation to the ESC, Panelo says. “You find that a lot of students say, ‘If it wasn’t for the ESC, I wouldn’t be the person I am now,’” Panelo says. “I know I wouldn’t be back working at this institution today if it weren’t for the ESC. The ESC has a huge success rate for students of color.”
To kick off the school year, the ESC holds an annual Ethnic Student Center Conference, taking place this year Oct. 19 to 21 at Camp Casey in Coupeville. Students alongside staff and faculty will gather to build a sense of community, learn about resources from the ESC, make new friends and develop a better understanding of diversity.
Looking forward, Panelo says that the center’s staff is determined to help students and club leaders succeed, especially in their academics this year. As role models, student leaders will be the primary examples demonstrating how to balance club participation and excelling in the classroom, he says.
Panelo recommends that Western students of all backgrounds who are interested in becoming involved with the ESC contact the center and clubs through their Facebook pages or visit the offices located in room 420 of the Viking Union.
“We want to encourage more than just students of color to join,” he says, “but students who have a passion for social justice or awareness in their identity.”