In its 18th year in Sun Valley, the Hispanic Youth Symposium hosted 300 Idaho high school students, including five from Wood River High School, over the weekend. The event culminated Sunday with over $1.6 million in scholarships and grants awarded to students for college.
The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, contractors at the Idaho National Laboratory, Gem State Initiatives and several state agencies and employers.
Educational institutions awarding scholarships were Albertson College of Idaho, Boise State University, BYU-Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, Eastern Idaho Technical College, Gonzaga University, Idaho State University, Lewis-Clark State College, Montana State University, Northwest Nazarene University, University of Idaho and Utah State University.
Albertson College, a private, liberal arts institution located in Caldwell, Idaho, gave away over two dozen scholarships worth over $20,000 each.
Theme of the symposium was Si Se Puede—It Can Be Done. The event targets school dropout prevention, continuing education, taking pride in Latino culture and breaking the cycle of poverty.
"Through the symposium the students learn that nothing is impossible because they have the power to shape their own futures," said Debra Kahl, of INL's Communications and Public Affairs Department.
"This event raises a student's awareness of their potential," said perennial speaker Judge Sergio Gutierrez, of the Idaho Court of Appeals. "This works on more than just an individual level—it really impacts the entire community and the entire state because we are nurturing leaders."
Along with Gutierrez, the symposium featured a number of speakers who have overcome barriers similar to those faced by the students in attendance. Students also participated in a series of workshops designed to promote corporation and constructive thinking, Kahl said.
"College representative are present throughout the weekend and they observe and evaluate the students as they participate in the workshops," Kahl said. Along with the evaluation process, scholarships are based on a student's grades in high school and on their level of need.
"A lot of the students here would not have a chance to go to college had it not been for this program," Kahl said. "And many students would have probably received a scholarship whether they were here or not."
Individual high schools decide which students will attend. Students write essays that are evaluated by teachers, councilors and other faculty—who, in turn, make the nominations. The number of students who will attend from a given high school is based on a school's Hispanic population, Kahl said.
"I think we are really lucky to be here," said Wood River High School senior Juan Carlos Reyes. "It is a big opportunity and a big challenge."
Reyes was the sole Wood River recipient of a college scholarship. He was awarded a $500 scholarship from the College of Southern Idaho and a $1,000 Gem State Diversity scholarship for second place in the talent (contemporary) competition.
Reyes plays a variety of musical instruments, including guitar, piano, drums and bass guitar.
Fellow Wood River High School senior Hugo Carrillo was "here to meet with all the colleges and to see what they have to offer."
For one Wood River student, the conference held wide-reaching ramifications.
"Through this experience I plan to see if I want to stay in the United States or possibly go back to Mexico," said Francisco Romera, who is originally from the Mexican state of Michoacan.
Romera hopes to one day be a physician, but last weekend he was "very excited, but very nervous. I have never been in this situation."