Over 100 Hispanic high school students spent a four-day, three-night experience at the Arizona State University Tempe campus last week learning important leadership skills and college entrance information.
The conference was hosted by the Hispanic College Fund, a group based out of Washington, D.C., that looks to develop the next generation of Hispanic professionals. It gave the students access to mentorship, scholarship and other resources to be successful in college.
The majority of the students who attended the conference come from lower-income families, and most would be the first in their families to go to college, said Monica Raugitinane, a spokeswoman for the Hispanic College Fund. Most of the students will be starting their freshman or sophomore year of high school in the fall.
The conference included many sessions, including one that gave students the chance to meet with successful Hispanic professionals. Students were able to meet in small groups with seven to 10 professionals to ask questions, hear advice and listen to personal success stories.
"I challenge you, instead of being the assistant, to be the professional," Edgar Acosta, a Nationwide Insurance agent in Phoenix, said to the four girls seated around him. "Don't just be the medical assistant; be the doctor."
This is an important step in introducing Hispanic teenagers to different types of mentors.
"Many Hispanic families don't value education and I want to open their minds and open their horizons," said Marco Hidalgo, the director of the Hispanic Youth Fund in Arizona and New Mexico.
Many Hispanic families value the safe route over the harder one, said Elida Sarmiento, one of the "Hispanic Heroes," who works for the Social Security Administration. Many families have a survival mentality and they value family over professional success, something Sarmiento said she has personally dealt with in her own family.
Students had to complete a competitive application process that included writing short essay answers, and had to show a minimum grade point average of 2.5.
The Hispanic College Fund seeks to help Hispanic students be prepared for college, improve retention rates and to increase the number of graduates.
So far, the programs seem to be successful. Ninety-six percent of students involved in the first program in 2004 have either graduated or are still currently enrolled in college, said Stina Augustsson, the national director of the Hispanic College Fund.
One session asked small groups of students to identify key issues that negatively impact the Hispanic community. Groups chose issues like teenage pregnancy, drug addiction and illegal immigrants' lack of available health care.
"Teenage pregnancy is a major Latino problem," said Anahi Ruiz, a sophomore at Franklin High School in Phoenix. She said that there are many girls at her school who are pregnant, including a friend.
Ruiz, who would be the first in her family to attend college, said she hopes to study psychiatry or crime scene investigation in college.
Ruiz and her group worked to find a solution to teenage pregnancy that they could implement in their community.
If her team is picked, they could be eligible for a $1,000 grant from the fund to set the solution into motion.
Besides learning important leadership skills, student learned about the college experience.
Throughout the program, they were able to learn important admission information. They also learned how to write entrance essays, pay tuition, and understand the SAT, ACT and ever-confusing application process. There were also scholarship opportunities available throughout the conference.
The Hispanic College Fund relies heavily on corporate donations for funding. All of the donations made in Arizona stay in Arizona programs.