Crash course in college
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 24, 2005

Institute helps Latino students

Yvonne Wingett

Latino high school students from across Arizona got a crash course in the importance of college, scholarship applications and the life of farm worker leader Cesar E. Chavez.

More than 40 juniors and seniors from the Valley, Nogales, Safford and the old mining town of Superior last week participated in the Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Institute at Arizona State University.

The weeklong program pairs Hispanic college students, teachers and role models with students who would be the first in their family to go to college.

The concept of enrolling in a university or community college is foreign to many of these mostly first- and second-generation Hispanic students. Wading through college applications, scholarship interviews and financial aid requests is overwhelming. In addition, explaining to Mom and Dad the importance of a college education is tough. The thought of packing up childhood bedrooms and moving into dorms can be tougher.

But it's critical, program officials say, in decreasing dropout rates and increasing wealth in the Latino community.

"It's the separation from home, not understanding why their child is spending so much time away from home and not doing the traditional chores," said 25-year-old Misty Cisneros, program coordinator senior and alumna of the program.

"The parents aren't familiar with the situation their own child is going through. A lot of what we do is engage our parents," she said.

The Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Institute has helped introduce hundreds of high schoolers to college life since it began in 1995. This year's session helped youths embrace tolerance, recognize their academic and personal successes and realize the importance of giving back to the community.

Members of an ASU scholarship committee worked with students, editing essays for scholarship applications. Participants helped students overcome fears of public speaking, making it easier for them to return to their schools and organize student groups. Students learned about the legacy of Chavez, whose fundamental message to Hispanics was to educate themselves and to empower communities.

They also created community service projects: They will return to their communities and start up programs that will better connect parents to schools, implement substance abuse programs and create short children's books on domestic violence.

"The kids were able to realize that in order to succeed in life, it's really important to get a college education," said Emmanuel Gallardo, an 18-year-old ASU student who helped facilitate the program. "It's inspiring and motivating."

Gallardo participated in the program two years ago. He's now a sophomore majoring in secondary education with an emphasis in Spanish. He credits the leadership institute with solidifying his commitment to education.

"It allowed me to see that many other Latinos like myself were also succeeding in school and making it their business to improve their community while trying to avoid the negative pressures of society," said Gallardo, of west Phoenix. "It's refreshing to see I wasn't by myself. It's great to come to a place and see different students from around the state with the same goals like me."