Meet the New Coordinator of the Latinx Student Success Center: Vanessa Varko Fontana

Mandy Chen, Staff Writer

Vanessa Varko Fontana has been named the new coordinator for the Latinx Student Success Center at California State University, East Bay. Fontana has previous experience as a program manager at Mills College and as a health teacher. 


Varko Fontana’s family trace their roots to El Salvador, Guatemala. Growing up in a single-mother household, Varko Fontana was taught the importance of education at an early age. “Education is something no one can ever take from you. That’s been embedded in my development growing up as a woman of color and as a first-generation student,” Varko Fontana said.  


Since moving to the Bay Area in 1999 from Southern California, she has worked in many fields including “community organizing, community health, as well as teaching.” To her, Hispanic/Latin Heritage month means celebrating opportunities and achievements of people who share the same culture and heritage, otherwise “highlighting accomplishments and contributions that Latinx folks have had in this country and the world,” Varko Fontana emphasized.  


The new coordinator expressed excitement in assuming the role of the new Latinx Student Success Center Coordinator, stating that her past experience, skills, vision, and goals coalesce to embody the mission of the Center. “It was really exciting to see a role that would blend in my work around wellness, education and social justice,” she commented. 


Increasing graduation rates among the CSUEB Latinx community is a fundamental goal for Varko Fontana, though building a sense of community, helping students feel like they belong, or having a place or center to be themselves to “feel safe and secure” is her long-term strategy. Varko Fontana believes that students should feel like they have the freedom and comfortability to ask for support and get connected with resources. “[There is] research showing that when folks feel a sense of belonging that is directly connected to academic benchmarks, that will ultimately lead to higher graduation rates,” said Varko Fontana. As an immediate initiative, she is facilitating  workshops, and campus-wide events as part of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month in collaboration with other affinity centers to celebrate the ancestral roots of our Latinx students. 


In adjusting to her role, Varko Fontana relishes in the enthusiasm and the comradery in the workplace, regarding the warm welcoming and engagement that fellow staff members have provided for her. “My colleagues have helped guide me with logistical learning curves…that has been very helpful,” she added.


Nevertheless, Varko Fontana noted that keeping open lines of communication with the university administration is a challenge. Going forward, Varko Fontana wishes for a more accessible channel between the higher-ups and the affinity center staff to keep things moving and to convert ideas into action.


Varko Fontana is  motivated from interacting with students, seeing them come back to the center, and utilizing the services offered, stating that, “It’s been nice working with students, seeing what they’re passionate about, tying in their ideas and interests around the programming we provide.” Varko Fontana leverages her heritage and bilingualism as “a point of connection” with the students she works with. To Varko Fontana, building a foundation for future generations of Latinx students, is the most exciting and impactful part of her position. “Students and staff are ready for these centers…[they are] invested…they have advocated for these centers for over six years,” concluded Varko Fontana. Overall, the new coordinator exudes contentment with this new position and the atmosphere as well as the mission associated with the Latinx Student Success Center.