Familia Cheer
Participants in the Youth Leadership Institute perform their "Familia Cheer" at the opening event of their conference. 

The road to student success starts well before the student enters college. Many have what it takes, but some lack access to information and resources. Enter Youth Leadership Institute, an initiative of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Five YLIs are scheduled across the United States this summer. The University of New Mexico hosts one this week.

YLI is a three-day, overnight conference for Hispanic entering high school seniors. It is designed to give them practical tools they need to successfully apply to top universities, access financial aid and scholarship opportunities and excel in school and beyond. Selected students experience life on a college campus, take part in college and career workshops, interact with college students and professionals who serve as mentors, and develop the skills to become leaders in their communities.

Nearly 50 students are taking part in the YLI at UNM. All had to have a 3.0 GPA. The average for this group in 3.7. The majority comes from New Mexico – many from Albuquerque, but others from smaller communities like Bloomfield and Carlsbad. Still a few others come from California.

In addition to the students, 19 mentors – college students from New Mexico who are attending colleges across the country – are leaders of “familias” within the group. Many mentors are Gates Millennium Scholars or Hispanic Scholarship Fund recipients.

Lawrence Roybal, assistant dean of Graduate Studies and executive director of ENLACE Statewide Collaborative, said that by virtue of being at UNM, students might gravitate toward becoming Lobos based on having experience here.

Roybal addressed the students. He said, “You are already leaders. Taking part in the Youth Leadership Institute gives you additional skills and leadership experience that you will take back for your senior year to make a greater impact.”

Representatives from Intel and Wells Fargo, the local and national sponsors, also encouraged the students to make the most of the three-day conference by networking with other students, mentors and professionals.

Intel Intern Manager Vaadra Martinez told them, “In addition to the other connections you make in the next few days, connect with yourself and your story. What do you want your story to be?”

Jason Acosta, senior outreach manager for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, said, “You earned your spot here out of 365 applications.” He explained how he didn’t have the confidence, guidance or resources when he first thought about college. He was discouraged by a college counselor. Ultimately, he attended Montgomery College, did a study abroad at Cambridge and finished a degree in political science from Yale University.

“A student is someone who wants to learn and is willing to work hard. Don’t accept ‘I can’t afford it.’ Don’t tell yourself, ‘I don’t have what it takes,’ because you do. Find your passion. We’ll find the answers together,” Acosta said.

Roybal thanked partners collaborating on the institute: Lumina Unidos Project under Jennifer Gomez-Chavez; Division of Student Affairs, Eliseo "Cheo" Torres; El Centro de la Raza, Rosa Isela Cervantes; New Mexico MESA, Anita Gonzales; Division for Equity and Inclusion, Jozi DeLeon; College Enrichment and Outreach Programs, Andrew Gonzalez; Graduate Resource Center and the ENLACE Statewide Collaborative.