About 100 Latinx high schoolers sharpened their leadership skills and got a taste for college life during an overnight camp at Utah State's Logan campus this week.
"These are top-tier youth leaders in middle and high school," said Celina Wille, USU Latinx Cultural Center associate director. "Almost all are first-generation students planning to access college."
The 2022 Latinos in Action Leadership Bootcamp, June 28-29, was hosted in partnership with USU's Latinx Cultural Center and USU Extension. Through workshops and other activities, the camp prepares elected leaders of Latinos in Action classes for the upcoming school year, and participants came to USU's camp from multiple school districts in northern Utah and southeastern Idaho.
"It's helped me push a little bit more to see in what ways I'm a leader," said Ramon Guzman, a Syracuse High School student preparing to be a Latinos in Action class president in the fall.
Latinos in Action is a nonprofit preparing high schoolers for college and careers through scholarships, elective middle-school and high-school courses and other resources. The nonprofit started in Utah and has expanded into 12 other states. It's currently growing so quickly in Florida that founder and CEO José Enriquez said he expects the Sunshine State to surpass Utah in membership next year.
Enriquez said partnering with USU's Latinx Cultural Center and Extension helps Latinos in Action prepare its members for their upcoming leadership roles, but it helps them start to feel familiar with the university, as well.
"The Latinx Cultural Center has been great," Enriquez said, "because our kids who take LIA in high school now have a natural fit or progression to when they get on campus. … That same familia, the familial feel, they felt (in Latinos in Action), they can feel here."
Enriquez said he appreciates the ways different USU colleges and other units worked together to create an impactful educational experience for the students.
"One thing I like about USU is they're willing to be flexible, willing to work with us, willing to do anything to get these kids on campus," Enriquez said.
And many of the students value the opportunity, as well. Claudia Rodriguez is preparing for her senior year at Syracuse High, where she'll be a class president alongside Guzman.
"Having these opportunities really puts me a step further in understanding where I want to be in my future," Rodriguez said. "Being here just makes me realize there's such a great connection within the community and that they have a great college campus life and energy."
Latinos in Action partnered with Utah State for the first bootcamp at the university in 2018, and that partnership "has worked out like a good marriage," said Wille, who in addition to her post at the Latinx Cultural Center is a USU Extension Latino programs specialist and an associate professor in the College of Agriculture Applied Sciences, Technology & Education department.
Working with Latinos in Action is crucial, she said, because over the years the nonprofit has built up a trust among students and their communities "that you can't gain just by saying, ‘Well, I'm a Latino professional.’” Instead, reaching the next generation of Latinx leaders "really involves building partnerships and working with those that have already cultivated that trust."
"They have the students, we have the facilities in addition to expertise in leadership development that we can contribute to the bootcamp workshops," she said.
And it's nice to have the students' energy on campus.
"It's a very energizing experience, because they're young, they have great ideas," Wille said. "Being in a position of leadership, they are very assertive with their ideas. It's not like they're vessels that we're just pouring knowledge into. So for us, it's worth all the work that it involves to get to this point."
Utah State Today
Associate Professor and Latino Program Specialist, Associate Director
Extension, Latinx Cultural Center
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