National Hispanic Institute: CSU is University of the Year

Cinco de Mayo celebration on the Plaza. May 5, 2008Colorado State University was recently recognized as the University of the Year by the National Hispanic Institute.  The honor recognized CSU’s 25-year-long partnership promoting and encouraging higher education within the Latino community.

The university, the only state-supported institution identified to work with NHI, was recognized for hosting the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session each summer in addition to promoting participation through the Alliance Program and other partnership activities. The Alliance Program unites students, families, high school personnel, and the Colorado State University with a common goal of envisioning education beyond high school, ultimately sending a greater number of Colorado students to college.

“The National Hispanic Institute was founded to serve future leadership needs of the country via the Hispanic/Latino Community.  Thirty five years ago, the founders of this program envisioned the importance of developing youth and community by providing leadership and academic programs.  They have been successful in developing individuals who are now serving and making important contributions in government, education, science and industry.  The programs of NHI, which now extends internationally, continue to make a difference in the lives of the young people they serve.  We are proud to be recognized by this dynamic organization and look forward to continued collaboration,” said Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros.

“CSU has consistently been a part of NHI’s work for almost 30 years. Whether it has been by sponsoring the LDZ, recruiting at fairs or the Collegiate World Series, serving of the College Register advisory board, or by making numerous scholarships available for high school students to attend the LDZ and NHI alumni who enroll in undergraduate studies, CSU has set a high standard for strategic partners who work with NHI in developing youth leaders,” said Ernesto Nieto, founder and president of NHI.

Fostering essential skills

The Colorado Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session, which began in 1983, is a weeklong conference where students are asked to assess the promise and potential of a community rooted in a reality of dual cultures and examine the assets of the Latino community and its trajectory. The event gives high school sophomores and juniors a better understanding of community equity building and a chance to improve their skills – such as critical thinking, collaboration and the ability to influence outcomes as well as public speaking, organizational management and constituency building. These are all essential skills to facilitate success as a leader in the 21st century Latino community.

“In recent years, CSU has worked closely to also revive and expand programming opportunities for Coloradoans from hard-to-serve or hard-to-reach communities through the Alliance program,” said Nieto. “This year CSU has quickly become one of NHI’s top colleges for members once again. There are many more projects and efforts that have grown from this relationship and many of them due to the direct leadership of CSU Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros.”

“Like any true partnership, the benefits are genuinely mutual. We deeply appreciate NHI’s recognition of our commitment to fostering educational success of Latino students.  We are in return grateful that NHI has given us the tools, best practices, and curriculum to put into place programs, initiatives and community engagement practices that has led to better ways to recruit and retain Latino students,” said Associate Vice President for Access and Diversity and Executive Director of the Access Center Oscar Felix. “Our land grant mission is deeply rooted in an ethos of serving all of our communities, and NHI has been an invaluable partner in allowing us to meet this obligation to the increasingly important Latino community.”

Q&A with a LDZ Alumna

Kathia Castro
Major: Health and Exercise Science
Hometown: Fort Collins
High School: Fossil Ridge High School

How did you get involved in the Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session?

One of my mentors told me about it totally last minute, the last day to apply actually. I went over to her house and filled the entire application, wrote an essay in a record time of like an hour. I received a scholarship to cover the tuition and on June 2013, I walked into Allison Hall with no idea of what LDZ even was.

Could you tell me a little bit about what you did in the LDZ session?

LDZ is hard to describe. So many things come to mind at once – the friendships, the hardships, learning experience.  LDZ is mentally demanding and it challenges you to think like you never have before. You are immersed into a room full of the brightest Latinos in the US and it’s in the middle of the hectic-ness of running your own legislative session, it’s in the middle of the near tears from not being able to pass your proposal in the Senate, or being on a serious time crunch to write your debate to present to the Supreme Court Justices that you realize that even in the madness of it all you can thrive, that you are confident, that you are capable. LDZ doesn’t make you this, it merely opens your eyes to let you see that you have been this all along, you just hadn’t realized it.

What was the most influential thing you learned at the LDZ session?

For me, the most influential thing was the opportunity of being surrounded by other Latino kids that like me want to succeed in life, who, like me, come from a background that, generally, because of low income, can’t attend college, people who understand what it is to be a Latino teenager in an America that is barely starting to recognize our raw potential for success. Knowing that there were others like me, others who so passionately cared for our community and were willing to go above and beyond to attend college was one of the biggest motivations in my life. On Sunday morning, you walk out of LDZ with an entire different perspective, with a new mentality and with 102 new brothers and sisters because, the same kids that you wouldn’t make eye contact with on the same day, are now family, and this LDZ family is  the future of America, that is what is so  incredible about LDZ.

Did attending the session influence your decision to come to CSU?

CSU had always been a top choice for me; LDZ only reinforced my opinion of Colorado State.

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus?

I love going to El Centro in the LSC; it’s my little home away from home. The people who work there are all kind and welcoming.

If you were to recommend CSU to a friend, what would you say?

Life 102 is no joke.

What do you think about CSU receiving the “University of the Year” recognition from the National Hispanic Institute?

I think it’s well-deserved. Every summer for 25 years now Colorado State University has been endorsing change and growth within the Latino Community, and that is something that I am forever grateful for.