In 2002, Lewis University sought and received a 3M Vision Grant focused on Emerging Directions in Latina/o Leadership. The design of the research involved community leaders, professors, university staff, graduate students, undergraduates, and high school aged youth in a search for both key issues impacting the emergence of Latina/o leadership and the implementation of an action plan appropriate to the university as a response.
First Phase of the 3M Grant
The first part of the research began in 2002 with the Dialogo de Liderazgo, a large gathering of recognized Latino community leaders, around the question: what are the factors that support the emergence of Latino leadership? Students and community leaders worked together to identify key issues which included: mentoring within the context of family and church, access to education (especially higher education), exposure to active Latino leaders, anticipatory images within youth of involvement in leadership roles, and actual involvement in the work of organizational leadership via informal internships. Further, we began the work of critically reflecting on the challenges and opportunities in each area.
At the same time, undergraduates were engaging in historical research and critical social reflection on the influences shaping the Latino notion of leadership. This academic research involved an extensive literature review that included consideration of the impact of colonialism and racism, as well as patterns of participation in social systems. The goal was to allow our academic research inform, challenge, and shape the learning’s from the Dialogo de Liderazgo.
By the end of the first year of the grant, it was clear that the focus for the study would be on building access to higher education for Latino youth. This would involve direct intervention in the lives of high schools serving Latino populations, connecting with families, building anticipatory images, and exposing young people to dynamic and charismatic Latino leaders and engaging them with youth mentors. This goal seemed best served by the development of the Si Se Puede Conference.
Second Phase of 3M Grant
The second part of the research involved development of the conference. This involved a coalition of researchers, students and our university Office of Admissions. In the Fall of 2003 a first, small conference was offered. We had multiple learning’s, possibly most importantly that Latino youth and leadership issues could only be accessed by personal contact, possibly more importantly, finding the right person in the school setting. Further, we became more aware of the needs young people brought to the process. In the Spring of 2004 we had developed contacts, offered transportation, developed new networks of communication, and offer a larger conference.
As importantly, this grant offered Lewis University the opportunity to identify and mentor Latino students. As the study progressed, our students were presenting at regional and national conferences. Our research was presented at the national convention of college admission counselors, and others interested in the topic began to approach Lewis. As well, Lewis University continued to consider how it could better serve Latino students and the Latino community. Discussion became more serious about a Latino studies curriculum within the university.
Third Phase of the Grant
The third and final part of the research has continued the Si Se Puede Conference and the mentoring of young people in leadership roles. The conference has been a tremendous success and identified Lewis University as a preferred center for Latino students and emerging leaders. The project has been completed, and with all successful opportunities for study leaves unanswered questions, unfinished business, and new opportunities. As the effort shifted toward action, emphasis on the critical academic study and reflection was reduced. This was even a more important concern as undergraduate students became involved in the work that had not been part of the first part of the study. Finally, we have achieved what we set out to do, and now have the resources to do more effectively what we have been successful as accomplishing. Unfortunately, our resources are now at an end. The future will challenge us to develop resources to continue the inquiry even more effectively, and to develop new methods to evaluate our efforts.