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West campus wraps 3-day Summer Leadership Symposium

July 08, 2009

For the second summer in a row, Arizona State University’s West campus hosted a three-day Summer Leadership Symposium, providing 150 high-achieving Latino/Latina high school students with an introduction to the college experience.

The June 25-27 event was presented by AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute, a year-round Phoenix-based college access program for Latino/a youths.  Aguila is the Spanish word for “eagle.”

“The event serves as entry into the year-round AGUILA program and provides a comprehensive and rigorous experience that prepares students for their college journey,” says AGUILA CEO and founder Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez.  “It also offers the bonding experience between participants that we know is critical to their success as they move into the year-round program where they will work together in preparing for college.”

The three-day symposium filled to capacity, as 150 students took up residency in the apartment-style Las Casas facility at the West campus. Student were guided through their three days by ASU faculty, AGUILA staff and mentors, and AGUILA alumni who served as resident assistants.  The students attended a variety of sessions, including an interactive opportunity with local professionals and community leaders, who shared their educational experiences with the “Aguilitas.”  Also featured was a college fair that included universities and colleges from around the country, as well as a “Major Fair” offering insights into the many college majors available to incoming students.  Three 30-minute mock college classes were presented, allowing students to move from one subject to another from a list of 12 courses associated with selected college majors.

“The symposium was nothing like I have ever experienced,” wrote one high school student following the event.  “It has changed my views on the Hispanic culture and I now understand how big of a problem it is to not get a good education. I now feel the inspiration to go to college. AGUILA came at the perfect time for me because I was lost and I had no idea how I was going to get to college, and how I was going to get support. Thanks to you, I now have all the information I need to get through high school, and to get to college.”

“There is nothing more important to Latinos than guaranteeing that our children stay in school and pursue higher learning,” says Ybarra-Hernandez, who unveiled the AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute in 2006 and has recruited youths representing 32 high schools in the Valley, Tucson and Coolidge for this year’s program who represent the 72 schools AGUILA serves.  “We all know a high school diploma just isn’t good enough anymore.  The symposium is designed to give students the skill sets need to move to the next level, while also creating an ongoing support network, as well as information and resources.

“Our Latino students need us; we truly are the ‘village,’ providing them with a certain comfort level that allows them to grow and develop into confident, committed and conscientious individuals who will succeed in college and beyond.”

The students enrolled in the symposium were picked based on a combination of criteria, including academic achievement – most have a 3.0 GPA or higher – personal recommendations, and an expressed desire to pursue a higher education.

José E. Nañez, Sr., an ASU President’s Professor who is the executive director for community outreach in the office of University Student Initiatives and again participated in the symposium, says the event was groundbreaking and valuable.

“Students found the opportunity to collaborate with peers from high schools throughout the state,” says the professor of psychology and neuroscience in the Division of Social and Behavioral Science at ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.  “The peer activities allowed them to work as groups to problem solve and, through friendly cross-group competition, they came up with unique solutions to the issues presented them.

“Coming together to share and discuss their group solutions also allowed the students to benefit from the solutions that other groups came up with.  These types of activities help them learn there is always more than one solution to a problem or issue.”

Among the three-day highlights was a solidarity/poverty dinner that helped the students understand the challenges of those less fortunate.  The “Dream Act” – the story of a courageous immigrant facing deportation – was performed, followed by a radio interview with the play’s main character.  “Honoring boxes” were created by the students in an exercise designed to remind them of their experience and lessons learned while at the symposium.  Throughout the event community, business and educational leaders visited with the participants.  Closing ceremonies allowed parents to voice their appreciation for the event.

“I wanted to thank you for allowing me to participate in Aguila’s symposium over the weekend,” wrote another participating student.  “I absolutely had the time of my life! The keynote speeches were inspirational and motivated me.  You have motivated me to try my best to go to college as a leader.”

Parents of the participating “Aguilitas” learned as much as their aspiring collegians, says Ybarra-Hernandez.

“Participating in a specially designed AGUILA Parent University at the symposium allowed parents to tour the campus, putting to rest their fears while also providing them with valuable information from students, faculty, staff and volunteers.  Many of the activities were designed to reassure the parents and help them understand that we are all together on this journey for their children’s success.”