Latino Program in Washington Encourages Young Latinos to Pursue Higher Education

Hina Yu

A group of students at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) is changing how young Latinos approach higher education. 

In 2013, the Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) was created by the Latino Education Training Institute (LETI), a Lynnwood-based Latino advocacy group. The goal of the initiative is to help Latino students gain confidence and find resources to pursue higher education. 

Rosario Reyes, the founder of LETI, begins the final presentation celebration by welcoming everyone and introducing guests. (Photo credits: Hina Yu)

Rosario Reyes, founder of LETI,  had a vision to “create an incubator of Latino leaders” through LLI. With established partnerships at UWB, Edmonds College, and Skagit Valley College, every LLI cohort has presented their community projects in a final presentation each year to build a legacy of positive impact. The projects, which are designed to show leadership and empathy, have included topics and activities such as fundraising, creating cultural activities, and providing mentorship. 

The LLI program at UWB was founded by Professor Victoria Vasquez-Breckwich, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies, in 2019. Felicity Abeyta, a pre-major academic adviser in UWB’s Student Success Center, says that LLI grew into a program to “develop leadership skills among UWB students, raise awareness about the needs of the Latinx community, and engage in local empowerment projects.” 

In 2023, 48% of Latino students from Washington graduated from a four-year university. In contrast, 60% of White students graduated from a four-year university in Washington. 

Dana M. Washington, community-engaged learning program manager in the Office of Connected Learning at UWB, worked with this year’s LLI student cohorts. Washington noted how determined all nine students were to give back to their community.

This year, nine students participated in UWB’s LLI program: Aaron Guerrero, Adriana Cuevas Sandoval, Akima Toledo Fischer, Evelyn Ortiz, Jackline Castro, Jaden Lopez, Niveah Martinez, Olivia Hernandez, and Sabrina Prestes Oliveira.

These UWB students mentored Bothell High School students over two academic quarters. From January to May, UWB students hosted three in-person sessions and a virtual session to prepare Bothell High School freshmen, sophomores, and juniors for college.  

The first session was an introduction and one-on-one mentoring to determine individual students’ interests. They also took a poll to help them understand which areas held the most interest for them and their parents. 

The next session was a workshop on resumes and personal statements. 

By the third session, LLI students put together a vision board of their own journey to UWB with the Bothell High School students. Castro cited this as one of her favorite memories because it felt like a full-circle moment. “Having that assistance to clear those doubts and giving them more guided pathways was huge.” 

The final session, on financial aid was conducted virtually. Held in Spanish and English, it gathered the most attention because it covered the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). UWB student Martinez said she understood the interest in this session: “There were no resources at my school. I had to go to the local community college to get any information on it.”

The program has undoubtedly left a mark on Bothell high schoolers who engaged with UWB’s LLI. ”One student said we made her year,” Castro said. “She got us all feeling a little emotional.” 

“This is actually super important work that we’re doing…to motivate the next generation of high schoolers,” said Oliveira, a student mentor.

Fischer is grateful for being a part of LLI because she feels she was able to reassure Bothell High School students that it is okay to pursue a college degree. As she was growing up, it was common for young Latinos to work for their families. “You can go to high school, and you have the option to go to college, but you have to work for your family. You have to provide for your family.” 

Allyson Briceno, an alumnus of the UWB LLI program, added that the university should continue funding this program. “Little actions of kindness, eventually, are gonna have a big impact on people’s life in our community.” 

Briceno also voiced her support for LLI’s expansion. She thinks that if the program can “contact more people, not only in Bothell High School but trying to do one in Seattle or maybe up north,” it would be a great way for more people to seek out a university degree. 

Since the first LLI cohort in 2013, Reyes’ favorite part of the program is seeing each individual gain confidence in their leadership roles. 

“I remember the faces of people saying, ‘I was shy. I didn’t think I could even stand in front of a group to tell my story.’” 

Reyes feels warmth “seeing them and hearing them today that they’re here. They’re doing it.”

Reyes hopes that the program will create more connections between the cohorts to “help each other to open their own doors to different levels.”

Cover Photo: Attendees from LETI, UW Bothell, Edmonds College, and Skagit Valley College come together to do a final presentation on their projects. Five panels sit together in the front to evaluate each college’s cohort’s accomplishments throughout the past two academic quarters. (Photo credits: Hina Yu)

Hina Yu

Hina Yu is a student majoring in journalism and minoring in global health at the University of Washington. Yu is the Marketing and Communications Assistant for the UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, an Undergraduate Academic Peer Advisor for UW’s Undergraduate Academic Affairs, a Resident Advisor for UW’s Housing and Food Services, and the Director of Internal Affairs at UW’s mental health advocacy student organization: Pup Support.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.