Over 300 Latinx middle and high school students attended the second annual Latino Youth Leadership Conference at Utah State University this week.
After a successful pilot program last year, USU Extension partnered with Latinos In Action once again to organize the conference to provide Latinx students across Utah and Idaho with tools to become leaders in their communities, according to USU Extension Assistant Professor Celina Wille.
“We want them to go back home and have tools,” Wille said.
LIA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower Latinx youth to become leaders in their community, be civically engaged and prepare for the future. The organization offers a curriculum taught in middle and high school elective courses.
The conference provided workshops, team-building activities and mentors to help guide the LIA students attending.
Students participated in mock interviews, a career exploration fair, an etiquette dinner, outdoor recreational activities, a dance and a movie night.
One of the major changes from the conference last year is rather than having professors teach and run the workshops, the professors mentored eight college students who prepared and presented the workshops.
“We really feel that us old professors, you know, we are probably not as interesting and exciting as listening to a peer,” Wille said. “That’s what we really want, that they will see role models. That they will see themselves in college.”
In addition to the eight student instructors, 30 LIA college chapter students from different colleges across Utah and Idaho act as guides and mentors to squads of 10 participants each throughout the conference.
“We want the participants that are coming from across the state to have a mentor,” Wille said, “somebody that is going to be with them through the course of the conference.”
USU Linguistics Professor Maria Spicer-Escalante this not only helps the youth but the counselors as well.
“That’s the beauty of Latinos in Action,” Spicer-Escalante said. “Our Latino students can feel that they can have an important leadership role, that they can do things by themselves.”
Vladimir Robles, a junior at Weber State University, has been a counselor in various LIA conferences for three years. He said as counselors, their goal is to prepare students to be a part of the organization.
“We want these kids to get a well-rounded knowledge of what it is to, you know, be a Latino in Action,” Robles said.
Manuel Garcia, a junior at Boise State University, said he hoped the students in his squad could be encouraged to take the initiative to be noticed.
“If I can see them change just in these couple of days,” Garcia said, “that will carry on forward into their schools and hopefully later to successful endeavors in whatever they do.”
In addition to peer mentors, participants were also exposed to professional mentors and role models such as professors, attorneys and business owners at the conference’s etiquette dinner Thursday evening.
Unlike a traditional panel with the guests sitting at a table in the front, the guests were able to sit with the students and conversations about their challenges and successes during the dinner.
The dinner is an opportunity for students to gain confidence and talk with professionals, which is what USU senior Ketzel Morales said was one of the most important things the participants could take away from the conference.
“The one thing I have always wanted kids to take from these camps, is the fact that they matter,” Morales said. “I feel like we sometimes we feel intimidated by leadership and the fact that they’re doing this, it’s like a huge step towards the future because, I think there is, like, a need for Latinx leaders.”