“I want to work for the hospital that saved my life,” said leukemia survivor Jasmine Valenzuela, a sophomore at Dodge City High School.
That’s only one of many inspirational goals shared by the audience during the keynote speech by youth speaker Gabe Salazar at the eighth annual Encuentro conference hosted by the K-State Hispanic American Leadership Organization.
Encuentro, which means meeting or encounter, falls within Hispanic Heritage Month and attracted students from 23 different high schools and community colleges throughout Kansas to the K-State Student Union Ballroom on Tuesday. Attendees learned about the services and scholarships K-State has to offer Hispanic-American students.
“Encuentro is a great way to work with organizations throughout Kansas and provide opportunities for leaders in the Hispanic community to expand their reach,” said Valeria Guizado, junior in biology and president of H.A.L.O. “This year, we had a record 637 attendees.”
Students at the conference had the opportunity to attend workshops, enjoy Hispanic entertainment and listen to several keynote speakers addressing the challenges posed to Hispanic students such as affording higher education, finding employment after graduation and Hispanic culture.
Special guests for the event included Anthony YBarra and Quantrell Willis of Career and Employment Services; nationally-known Hispanic youth speaker Gabe Salazar; and Tanya González, K-State associate professor of English.
“My favorite part of the conference was listening to keynote speaker Gabe Salazar,” Jozabeth Garcia, senior at Wichita Northwest High School, said. “I felt very encouraged by him and when he said, ‘Martin Luther King (Jr.) had a dream, not a wish.’ I was very inspired because I realized you have to work for the goals you have, you can’t just wish for them.”
One of H.A.L.O.’s goals for Encuentro is to allow Hispanic-American leaders to come to K-State and network with professors and students who can help them find the resources that could help them attend a university.
According to Mirta Chavez, director of Multicultural Programs and Services, this is the only opportunity many students to visit a college campus.
“It’s important to show them what opportunities are available to them that they can utilize to attend college, as well as to share what they’ve learned with their friends at school and in the Hispanic American community,” Chavez said.
With a record number of attendees at this year’s Encuentro, Chavez said she is optimistic about the future and what students are taking away from the gathering.
“As these students take what they have learned here and use it to attend college and then share that knowledge with their community, more and more people will go to college,” Chavez said. “Showing these students that they do, in fact, have the resources to go to college and make a better life for themselves is how many of the problems facing the Hispanic community will be solved.”