Students polish leadership and advocacy skills at Latino national conference

McDaniel students Norman Lezama, Roxana Aviles, Fabiola Castillo Medina, Jasmin Chavez, Karen Canales Del Castillo and Christian Perez
February 27, 2017

Sophomore Jasmin Chavez has embraced every opportunity to hone her skills at leadership, advocacy and activism for the Latino community and now she’s opening those same doors for others to join her.

Most recently the Political Science and Spanish double major from Falls Church, Va., invited five classmates to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Emerge Latino Conference in Washington, D.C., to help them grow as leaders and acquire the tools they need for strong advocacy for the Latino community.

None but Chavez had ever before attended a leadership conference but all were members of McDaniel’s first LULAC chapter on campus, which Chavez established in September. The group held several fundraisers to finance the three-day stay in D.C.   

“I felt even more empowered than ever after attending the conference and I wanted the other students to feel that too,” says Chavez, who has served as an intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and at the National Portrait Gallery in D.C. with the Smithsonian Latino Center Young Ambassadors Program. “The conference was definitely a wake-up call — there is so much we can do and will do because of the current state of our country.”

Norman Lezama was nervous about going to the conference since as a Music major he didn't feel as politically informed as were the other McDaniel students — Political Science, Business and Communication majors — attending the conference. But he returned to campus inspired and well versed.

“What stayed with me the most is when I saw Bernie Sanders and he was talking about how we are the Rebels. I started thinking that I am part of my own Star Wars story — something that I can be a part of and fight for. This was truly a wonderful experience,” says the senior from Rockville, Md. “I now know how strong the Latino community really is, and I’ve learned how I can have my voice heard and how to be part of the solution.”

Although Lezama may be the one studying melody and harmony, his words are music to Chavez’s ear. She’s constantly looking for ways to motivate her fellow Latinos — of all ages. During the summer of 2016, armed with one of McDaniel’s Griswold-Zepp awards, Chavez designed and ran a Leadership Program, called Rising STARS, for rising at-risk fourth, fifth and sixth graders from the Culmore neighborhood in her hometown of Falls Church, Va.

During the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workshops, about 50 children built rockets, volcanoes and robots while learning the importance of STEM careers and being empowered to stay in school and become leaders in their community.

Newly named a Young People For (YP4) fellow from the People for the American Way Foundation, Chavez will extend her Rising STARS program to empower more young Latinos to go to college. The one-year fellowship will offer training, technical support and media assistance to Chavez as she implements her community project, which YP4 calls a Blueprint for Social Justice.

For Chavez, the YP4 fellowship and successful sharing of opportunities with her classmates at McDaniel put her two steps closer to her goal of becoming an immigration and civil rights attorney. She has her eye on Congress and perhaps even the White House, but never wants to let go of her mission to inspire Hispanic youth and motivate them to stay in school, go to college and make a difference in their communities. She’s well on her way if her successful trip to the Emerge Latino Conference is any indication.

Senior Roxana Aviles left the conference feeling hopeful after meeting so many motivated college students.

“It made me really happy to realize how many students are ready to give back to their communities, and our country,” says Aviles, a Political Science major from Manassas, Va. “I left feeling beyond inspired and empowered.”

McDaniel students Norman Lezama, a senior from Rockville, Md.; Roxana Aviles, a senior from Manassas, Va.; Fabiola Castillo Medina, a junior from Riverhead, N.Y.; Jasmin Chavez, a sophomore from Falls Church, Va.; Karen Canales Del Castillo, a junior from Baltimore and  and Christian Perez, a freshman from Gaithersburg, Md., attend the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Emerge Latino Conference in D.C.

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