• Donald Tetto

Nearly 250 aspiring Hispanic leaders from the United States and Mexico will be at Southwestern University July 20-27 to participate in the Texas Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session (LDZ) sponsored by the National Hispanic Institute.

The Texas LDZ program, which is designed for high school juniors and seniors, is one of 15 programs NHI is sponsoring in the United States and Mexico this summer to help high-performing Latino high school students develop leadership skills.

LDZ participants will spend the first few days of the program on the Southwestern campus learning how state government works and electing students who will serve in actual government roles. The students will set up legislation and learn about effective caucusing. They will then travel to Austin to hold a mock legislative session in the state capitol. The program will conclude with a Supreme Court-style trial on July 25 and closing ceremonies.

The focus of this year’s program will be teaching students about community values and organization. Workshops will be led by high school and college student volunteers from across the nation.

According to NHI founder and president Ernesto Nieto, there is a leadership crisis in the U.S. Latino community, stemming in part from growing U.S. Latino population numbers and a lack of civic engagement among U.S. Latino community members.

“We’re proud to be continuing our mission of working with skilled and educated youth who are willing to be trained as future community leaders,” Nieto said. “We are training future leaders in the community who can give direction to how people think collectively, helping to foster community standards and expectations, and inspiring young men and women to craft shared community values and views that others follow.”

In addition to business, there will be some time for fun. On Thursday evening, participants will have an excursion to the Premium Outlets in Round Rock, on Friday evening they will have a talent show (“Noche Cultural”), and on Saturday evening, they will attend a “Governor’s Ball” at Southwestern that will be complete with music and a dance floor to celebrate their accomplishments.

Also on Saturday, participants will have the opportunity to visit a college fair at Southwestern that is expected to be attended by representatives of more than 25 of the country’s top colleges and universities.

Though NHI’s primary concern is developing leaders, students who have participated in NHI programs have a remarkable track record with respect to college enrollment. More than 98 percent of NHI participants attend college, with 90 percent graduating in four to five years, and 65 percent continuing into graduate studies.

The LDZ program has been offered since 1982, and has been held at Southwestern each summer since 1985. The program is named after the governor of the state of Mexico in 1827. Lorenzo de Zavala became the first vice president of the Republic of Texas in 1836. In addition to Southwestern, the LDZ program is offered at universities in Colorado, Illinois, New York and Monterrey, Mexico.

“It is always an honor and a privilege to welcome such talented and gifted students on our campus,” said Adam Navarro, assistant director of admission at Southwestern. “We always hope that they will enjoy their time here and take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to be our guests on our campus.”

Nieto, a Southwestern University graduate, founded the Texas-based National Hispanic Institute in 1979. It is now the largest Latino youth organization in the nation. For more information on LDZ or the National Hispanic Institute, visit www.nhi-net.org/.


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