Summer symposium helps high school students transition to college

AGUILA Youth Leadership Institute will hold its third annual Summer Leadership Symposium at the West campus this July to provide support to high school and college students on their journeys toward a college degree.

AGUILA is a program dedicated to increasing college enrollment and graduation rates among Latino youths in Arizona. AGUILA has expanded since its establishment in 2005, offering college preparation classes to high school students of all ethnicities and organizing workshops to teach parents how they can contribute in their child’s education.

The symposium, a four-day, three-night event, takes place July 28 to 31.

“We believe that we need to supply [our students] with a constant web of support,” said Rosemary Ybarra-Hernandez, CEO and founder of AGUILA. “Every summer, they can look forward to this symposium. And every summer, it’s going to be different.”

AGUILA and ASU have worked together on the symposium for three years – each time at the West campus. Steve Des George, director of public relations and marketing for ASU West, said they have a strong partnership benefitting everyone.

“What they [AGUILA] stand for is what we stand for,” Des Georges said. “That’s been rewarding, working with people like [Hernandez] who are committed. You see the passion, the commitment; it’s the whole package.”

Although the program has a focus on the Latino youth, Hernandez, an ASU Alumnus, said AGUILA accepts students of all ethnicities.

“We’re open to anybody who is open,” Hernandez said. “If there’s non-Latinos there, they get to understand Latino culture, and we get to understand other cultures too.”

The symposium is the kick-off event for the institute’s year-round program, said Nick Quinones, an AGUILA alumnus.

Quinones, who graduated from ASU in May, is now interning for AGUILA, coordinating and working events like the symposium.

“We really want [the students] to connect with their peers,” Quinones said. “We want these students to bond with each other so they feel more comfortable on their journey together. So they have a backbone to rely on.”

In addition to creating a sense of community among the students, the symposium will also educate them about the college application process, scholarships, financial aid and successful study habits.

“We’re giving a diverse group of students exposure to what’s down the road,” Des Georges said.

AGUILA also focuses on students’ lives outside the classroom and how to deal with personal issues.

“Life happens. How do you deal with these life issues while you’re in school?” Hernandez said. “We have a real personal approach in making sure they acquire all the other skills necessary in making them resilient in school.”

Although the symposium programs focus on students, parents and counselors are encouraged to get in on the action with classes and workshops that will teach them how to effectively support the students.

A teaching that Hernandez stresses in the program is to “pay it forward,” encouraging students to get their education and utilize their skills to give back to the community.

Many students who have gone through the AGUILA program have returned to contribute to the program after graduation.

Recent ASU graduate Estela Barraza said she felt compelled to contribute to AGUILA when she finished school.

“Seeing students that have gone through the program, they come back and we see how successful they’ve been,” she said. “We feel we have to be role models for the new generation as they’ve been role models to us.”

Barraza, who graduated with a bachelor’s in kinesiology in May, is now employed with Power1K, an online personal training Web site.

Power1K and Barraza will provide a “fitness boot camp” at the symposium, teaching exercise routines and tips for healthy living.

Quinones said he’s proud to give back to an organization that has helped him and many others find success in life.

“I didn’t get here by myself. If you are in college right now, you didn’t get there by yourself — you had help. These students, they don’t have that,” Quinones said. “It’s exciting to be where we are, and I just want to be able to help other people to get where we are now.”

Reach the reporter at

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.