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One of Lilvia Soto's goals is to create a stronger Latino community at Penn. Lilvia Soto, an assistant dean for academic advising in the College of Arts and Sciences, says she has a special mission to fulfill as the new director of La Casa Latina, the Center for Hispanic Excellence. Soto, a native Spanish speaker who was born and raised in Mexico, said she wants to "try to develop in young Latinos a greater knowledge, understanding and love for the culture of their ancestors." As director of La Casa Latina, Soto's chief objective will be to work to increase the recruitment and retention of Latino students at the University. In addition, she will help implement social, cultural and academic programs for Latino students. Soto also said that the development of a Latino Studies program at Penn is on her agenda. Sociology Department Chairperson Doug Massey helped establish a Latin American Studies program at the University, but the program, according to Soto, only marginally addresses Latino issues. One of the biggest impediments to the development of this program, aside from funding from the University, is a lack of professors qualified to teach Latino Studies classes. "In the past we've had some people but they're all gone now," Soto said. Massey was recently authorized to hire one Latino Sociology professor for next year and Soto hopes that the appointment will mark the beginning of the creation of a group of Latino faculty. "If this year, a Sociology professor is hired, maybe next year a History professor will be hired," Soto said. "It will be built over time." Of the four finalists for the position at La Casa Latina from a search process which lasted four months, Soto was the only internal candidate. "The decision was unanimous," said Electrical Engineering Professor Jorge Santiago-Aviles, a member of the search committee. "She helped obtain support for the program and was instrumental in writing proposals for getting funds for La Casa Latina." Soto's current visibility among Penn's Latino students has prompted students to place trust in her ability to lead and facilitate interaction between students, faculty and administrators, Santiago-Aviles added. "The entire Latino Coalition pushed for it because [Soto] understands Penn and has many connections with the administration," said College senior Leslie Heredia, president of La Asociaci-n Cultural de Estudiantes Latino Americanos. And Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum agreed that Soto was a good choice to head up the center. "I am delighted that the search committee found, right here at Penn, a colleague whose passion for advancing Latino presence at Penn is equaled by her commitment to the Philadelphia Latino community," she said. In addition to having taught one year at the University, Soto has also held teaching positions at Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Washington University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Temple University and the Cornell-Michigan-Penn Academic Year in Seville Program, which is run out of Spain. She will continue on as an assistant dean half-time for now but says she is anxious to become the full-time director of La Casa Latina. "When people have a better appreciation for their roots they become stronger, better able to lead," Soto said. Soto, who has been at the University for six years, received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Washington University and her doctorate degree in Hispanic Languages and Literature from the SUNY-Stony Brook.

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