In 1997, a University of Idaho student organization noticed that the high school dropout rate for Hispanic students was higher than the national average.
The group, known as Organizacion de Esudiantes Latino Americanos, decided to take action to bring that number down.
Leathia Botello, coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and adviser for OELA, said 16 years ago many Hispanic students were dropping out of high school because they were not receiving the support they needed from their high school counselors and teachers to prepare them for college.
“OELA decided to try to intervene a little earlier and help students reach their potential,” Botello said. “Because a lot of Hispanic students are first generation students, OELA wanted to make sure that they knew the ropes to come to college.”
OELA is dedicated to increasing enrollment and retention of Hispanic students in higher education, and the group has worked to accomplish this by hosting an annual three-day event called Vandal Challenge Leadership Conference. This year’s event will be held Nov. 7-10 on the University of
During the three-day event, OELA will host high school students on campus. The students will attend workshops, classes and motivational speakers to inform them about higher education.
“The goal is higher education. They are offered different workshops to help them get started on their path to college,” Botello said. “We have undergraduate admissions come in and talk to them, also someone from financial aid to talk to them about scholarships, loans, and grants as well as motivational speakers.”
Sandra Baeza, OELA president, said high school juniors and seniors who want to attend Vandal Challenge must go through an application process.
Baeza said this is a $10,000 to $15,000 project and out of about 80 applications they receive annually, OELA is only able to invite 50 of those students to attend.
OELA also offers transportation for the students to and from the conference and their home cities.
Most of the students who attend the conference are from southern Idaho.
“Idaho is not a very accessible state,” Botello said. “Students and their parents would have to take time off of school and work to come up here and see the campus and we know that can be a real hardship. So we thought it could be easy if we could just get a bus and get some students up here and then what they learn here, they could be an ambassador and take it back to their friends and family.”
In order to offer the yearly conference, OELA hosts many fundraisers and accepts donations from different organizations and colleges on campus.
“We hope to be able to show these students that UI is here with open arms and we are ready to help them in the next step of their education, that we are an institution that cares about its students and that we have a lot of great programs in place,” Botello said.
Baeza said she is looking forward to welcoming the students when they finally arrive to the conference.
“You can see their faces light up when they see us,” Baeza said. “Something I love seeing is when we call the students to let them know their application was accepted. Some of them scream with joy to know that they were selected and that’s just amazing to know that we can bring a smile to someone’s face that we may change their future of coming to UI or any other institution.”
Iris Alatorre can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org