The nearly 750 Hispanic or Latino faculty and staff members at the University of Central Florida have a new source for collaboration, service and support.

The goal of the new UCF Latino Faculty & Staff Association, or LaFaSA, is to raise awareness of and advocate for the needs of Latino employees and students at the university, according to its founding president, Cyndia Morales Muñiz, Ed.D.

“We want to broaden the reach so that all of our Latino faculty and staff are plugged in and know what’s going on at the university,” said Muñiz, who is assistant director of UCF’s Multicultural Academic & Support Services office. “It makes sense that we look for opportunities for collaboration and the sharing of resources.”

One of the organization’s goals is offering mentors for new Hispanic or Latino faculty and staff who could benefit from experienced colleagues’ advice on navigating the university and understanding its culture, said Muñiz, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

Muñiz created a constitution for LaFaSA with help from fellow members of the board of directors: Cristina Luna, vice president, and Justin Andrade, outreach officer. They plan to expand the board.

The group’s creation comes at a time when enrollment is climbing among Latino students. About 24 percent of UCF students identify as Hispanic or Latino, up from about 22 percent a year ago.

That number puts UCF on the verge of meeting the criteria to be a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution. Universities and colleges whose full-time undergraduate population is at least 25 percent Hispanic can apply for U.S. Department of Education grants meant to improve student achievement and enhance academic and student-support programs.

LaFaSA will help UCF better serve Latino and Hispanic students, said Muñiz, recalling how having a Latino professor in college with whom she could identify widened her horizons. LaFaSA can be a collective source of role models for Latino students, she said.

“Oftentimes, students seek out mentors who look like them or who they feel can relate to their cultural experiences,” Muñiz said.

Among other things, there is also a need for translated materials for the families of Latino students, particularly first-generation students.

“We can be a united front to better assist the Latino students that are coming to UCF,” she said.