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Acevedo Buontempo | PACE UNIVERSITY

Career Preparation

Paying it Forward

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo '84, '12
Master of Public Administration
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences
Westchester Campus

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo ’84, ’10 knows what it is like to be the first in a family to go to college, as does her husband, Anthony Buontempo ’85. While helping their oldest daughter go through the college application process they were glad to be able to help her obtain the resources she needed to succeed. However, Buontempo was amazed at how daunting the college admissions process has become and began to think about how much more difficult it would be for the families that visited her at the non-profit organization where she worked as a program manager. How much more challenging this must be for students whose parents were not familiar with the U.S. educational system and had language, cultural and socio-economic barriers. 

“The inequity and disparity in resources is significant in Westchester County,” says Buontempo. “People spend a lot of money for their children to succeed here. However, there are numerous school districts that have significant numbers of immigrant families with children who are the first to study in the United States and who also aspire to attend college. They cannot afford these resources nor do they understand the process.”

Following a 15-year career in Hispanic marketing and advertising, Buontempo made a switch to the non-profit industry serving the Latino community. She has worked in non-profit for 10 years and finally enrolled in Pace’s Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program, Non-profit Management track in 2007. Her graduate Capstone discussed the factors that contributed to success among Latino students in higher education, and her research specifically focused on how Latino youth prepare for the college application process.

“Aspirations are high among first generation Latino families,” notes Buontempo. “They value education and the opportunities that it provides. The college application process is complex and competitive and often the greatest barrier they face.”

In 2011-2012, Buontempo developed a business plan and Founded Latino U College Access, a non-profit organization that provides college resources and support to first-generation youth and their families. “Our mission is to increase college enrollment and completion among first-generation Latino students by providing access and guidance through education, collaboration, and advocacy so that students can reach their academic and life potential” she explains. Latino U College Access works with school districts whose populations are 50% or more Latino. Currently, they are working to deliver programs in three school districts. They have been selected to partner on a federally funded program, Project ExcEL, that will extend their services to an additional district. The organization also prides itself in establishing collaboration and partnerships with the local public libraries, community organizations, and businesses.

Latino U delivers information sessions to parents in Spanish, explaining the college application process, financial aid options, enrollment and other pertinent topics. “We provide information that is culturally relevant, bilingual, and explains the process in a way that they can understand. When we share the structure of financial aid, many parents don’t even know that aid is available at the federal, state, and institutional level,” she explains.

“People have told me that Latino parents didn’t show up for events like ours,” she recalls. “I’m thrilled that I have been able to disprove that. In our first year we attracted over 700 parents and students to our events. Our families are thirsting for this information.”

Student “Boot Camps” and workshops–conducted in English–provide one-on-one support to Latino students, providing advice on college essays, SAT/ACT prep, completing financial aid forms, and more. Community volunteers also provide support during the application process.

Buontempo has also maintained her connection to her alma mater. Five Pace students have interned at Latino U this past year, including a summer intern awarded by Pace’s Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The undergrad and graduate interns have assisted with social media, event planning, programs, and data management.

“Having interns has been a great experience,” says Buontempo. “As an Executive Director managing a young social enterprise, it’s quite a challenge without paid staff.  Our interns and volunteers have been a Godsend. I’ve had a wonderful partnership with Pace University.”

Funded by small grants and individual donations, Latino U is launching a fundraising effort to scale up its programs and reach more families. She would like to hire a full-time program manager in the spring, and hopes to add a fellow alumnus/a to her team.

“I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve received through my Pace education. I realize how an education can change your life,” she states. “From my marketing undergraduate degree to my MPA in non-profit management, everything I’ve learned at Pace has helped me get to where I am now.”

“My whole life has been in preparation for this,” she continues. “It’s been a lifelong journey. Latino U is a passion and a vocation for me. It’s something I consider my obligation. I’m committed to helping young people and making as many college dreams possible as we can.”

For more information, go to

Alumni Profile

Acevedo Buontempo

"I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve received through my Pace education. I realize how an education can change your life. From my marketing undergraduate degree to my MPA in non-profit management, everything I’ve learned at Pace has helped me get to where I am now."