Institute aims to equip students for success in college and life

The National Hispanic Institute led the International Collegiate World Series at Saint Leo University last week for the second year in a row.

The event is the capstone of a series of three programs designed by NHI to help high school students to develop the skills needed to become the next generation of community leaders, said Zachary Gonzalez, associate vice president of the institute.

The National Hispanic Institute seeks to build community leaders that aren’t reliant on external forces to guide them, according to Zachary Gonzalez, associate vice president of the organization, a graduate of NHI programs. (B.C. Manion)

The conference is held annually for high school students from across the United States and from global Latino communities, Gonzalez said. This year, it attracted more than 110 students — traveling from different countries and from across the United States.

Saint Leo University picked up the students at the airport, housed them, fed them and provided them a chance to get a taste of life on a college campus.

“We are proud to again partner with the National Hispanic Institute for the Collegiate World Series,” Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese, Saint Leo University president, said in a prepared statement. “NHI holds the same values as Saint Leo University—both instill the drive for excellence and encourage respect for all. Saint Leo welcomes learners of all backgrounds. We are excited to welcome these young people to our campus, and help them learn about college life and all that it offers.”

The program uses a self-directed, student-centered learning method that encourages critical thinking.

“Every high school program that we have focuses on a different angle of leadership development,” Gonzalez said. “NHI’s mission is to build more community leaders that don’t rely on external forces to guide them. We talk a lot about thought leadership.”

Connor Caldwell came from San Antonio, Texas, last week to take part in the National Hispanic Institute’s International Collegiate World Series. The idea is to prepare college-bound students for the college application process and for independent living. (B.C. Manion)

During the week, the students work on filling out college application forms, writing essays and making other preparations for college life and beyond. They have a chance to collaborate with other students and to gain insights from mentors who have already experienced college life.

“A lot of times a college freshman comes on campus, they don’t necessarily know how to plug in. They don’t necessarily know how to lead. Sometimes they don’t have any prior experiences in working with students of different nationalities, different backgrounds, confronting different cultures, confronting different social environments,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re not here to tell them there’s a right or wrong answer. It’s about how do we get them to see that their talents can be applied to the community, and begin to build those tools,” he added.

Danielle Castro, who works in admissions at Saint Leo University, was one of the coaches during the week.

She thinks the experience is helpful, as college-bound students look ahead to apply for admission.

“They’re getting prepped and ready, so now they’re going to feel that much more confident in applying to all the schools that they really want to go to. It helps them mentally,” Castro said.

Connor Caldwell, 16, from San Antonio, Texas, knows exactly what she wants to do.

Participants in the National Hispanic Institute’s International Collegiate World Series at Saint Leo University work on their Common App college application form. (Courtesy of Benjamin Watters/Saint Leo University)

“I want to major in computer science and electrical engineering, and I want to become a computer scientist or an electrical engineer for the FBI,” she said.

“I also want to have a dance minor. I’ve been dancing since I was 2.”

Participating in the week at Saint Leo is helpful, she said.

“My school is really good about college applications and starting early, but this is an additional resource that I have that my peers don’t.”

It’s an advantage, “especially going in as a rising senior, knowing what to expect and having my essay looked at and having my application looked at,” she said.

“I’ve visited colleges before, and I’ve talked to admissions counselors before, but now that it’s actually my turn to do this — (it helps) knowing what questions to ask, and what to get from my admissions counselors, and knowing how I can implement that with my applications and essays, and such,” she said.

Gonzalez said the experience can be quite eye-opening for many of the students.

“For a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve flown to another state or country,” he said.

For more information about NHI, its programs, and its new path for developing leaders, visit

Published June 20, 2018

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