Latino youth get first taste of college at leadership institute at Linfield

More than 100 Latino youth from Oregon recently got their first taste of the college atmosphere and sharpened leadership skills at a daylong institute at Linfield College.

The 2012 MEChA Leadership Institute was organized by students at Linfield College and leaders from Oregon MEChA Statewide, an all-volunteer outreach program that has been closing the high school achievement gap and encouraging Latino students to enroll in college.

The conference was aimed at chapter officers from high school MEChA clubs, giving them an opportunity to learn about their own cultural history and hone the communication and interpersonal skills necessary for leadership. The workshops, taught by Linfield students and MEChA college graduates, also encouraged students to become role models within their schools and to further their education.

“Many Latino youth don’t see themselves going to college,” said Eloina Franco, who serves as program coordinator for the MEChA board of directors. “They’re not comfortable with the idea, but when you bring them to a college campus, they meet other students who look just like themselves.”

“We want to show high school Hispanic students, particularly low-income and first generation, that it’s possible to go to college,” said Crystal Galarza, a junior at Linfield College who has established Latino initiatives on campus with broad backing from Linfield President Thomas Hellie and others. She co-founded Linfield’s MEChA chapter, and served as an ambassador and presenter at the conference.

“There is a significant need to bridge cultural gaps in our educational system,” said Galarza, who provides ongoing support to current Linfield chapter leaders Julia Galán and Pati Vazquez.

“The Institute teaches high school youth about scholarships and how to find financial support,” said Rosa Olivares, board president for MEChA Statewide. “When I was younger, I didn’t understand the system of higher education and didn’t know where to start, but I finally got help. Helping other students connect with college has become my passion.”

In addition to nurturing college aspirations among high school students, MEChA Statewide encourages educational excellence and leadership development, seeks to instill cultural awareness and pride, and promotes volunteer engagement in local communities.

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