MOULTRIE -- Mericela DeLeon doesn't want to go far from home for college.

The 19-year-old, who graduated from Colquitt County High School Friday, said she wants stay nearby.

"I didn't want to go to a big university," said DeLeon. "I didn't want to be thrown into a completely new environment."

So she's taking advantage of a Latino student recruitment program through the University of Georgia. After finishing her first two years of college at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, DeLeon will make the move to UGA in Athens.

Jim Hershcel, head guidance counselor at CCHS, said that the prospect of going far away to school is not too palatable for many Hispanics. So the program is trying to meet their needs. DeLeon's parents moved to the Unites States from Mexico in the 1970s.

DeLeon wants to be a dietitian, a field that UGA is actively recruiting, Herschel said.

When DeLeon's grandfather suffered a heart attack several years ago, she said she started researching healthier foods for him.

"I just wanted to find as much information as possible so I could help him," she said. That led to her interest in diets.

So far, DeLeon has the HOPE scholarship, as well as three others, so paying for school won't be a problem. She said she plans to live on campus for her two years while in Tifton.

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