In second year, Latino Leadership Initiative grows to include 40 students from seven universities

MERCED, Calif. — For the second year, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government has selected six University of California, Merced undergraduate students to attend the Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) Program.

This year, LLI partnered with seven universities across the country including UC Merced, the University of Houston, Texas A&M International University, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Loyola Marymount University. New to the initiative this year are the University of Texas-Pan American and Miami Dade College.

The selection process was highly competitive, with more than 100 students — representing a diverse range of career interests and outstanding academic and leadership accomplishments — being nominated by their respective universities. The program, which addresses the rapid growth of the Latino population and the lack of Latino leadership representation across all sectors of society, runs June 25 to July 2.

This year's cohort of UC Merced students includes:

  • Stephanie Badillo, a junior from Chula Vista majoring in sociology and management;
  • Lauriano Bucio, a junior from Compton majoring in economics;
  • Noel "Justin" Gomez, a junior from Belize majoring in political science;
  • Emely Heras, a junior from Los Angeles majoring in anthropology;
  • Patricia Paredes, a junior from San Jose majoring in sociology and management; and
  • Janna Rodriguez, a junior from Merced majoring in mechanical engineering.
Students attending the Latino Leadership Initiative at Harvard University
Six UC Merced students eagerly await attending a week-long Latino Leadership Initiative at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. in June.

"We are extremely proud of our young leaders who were selected to participate in this important initiative," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. "Taking part in the Latino Leadership Initiative will be a transformative experience for them, as well as for our campus and community."

Emely Heras hopes her experience in the program will help her excel not only as a student in her final year at UC Merced, but also as a Latina professional after she completes a master's degree in public health.

"I'm honored to be a part of such a great effort to empower the growing Latino population in the United States," Heras said. "I believe that it will be an experience that will change the way I look at the world and myself as a health disparities researcher and as a Latina."

Lauriano Bucio, who left Mexico and his family in 1999 in pursuit of a better life through education, is eager to return from the program and share his newfound wisdom with others so they can also benefit.

"I think great information and knowledge becomes useless if you just keep it to yourself," he said. "I think this is not something great just for me, but it's something great for UC Merced because it will benefit the school permanently."

Last summer, six UC Merced students were part of the inaugural LLI class and pledged to make an impact on their communities. Once they returned to campus, the students formed teams and designed community service projects that were carried out in collaboration with faculty and/or administration on campus.

Ismael Lara and Maira Pulido have created a mentorship program for students at Merced's East Campus Educational Center, an alternative high school. In April, they hosted a mini-conference that featured guest speaker Tony Jack, a Ph.D. candidate from Harvard who was one of their LLI mentors.

Dulcemaria Anaya and Jesse Anaya, with the help of UC Merced Spanish lecturer Yolanda Pineda-Vargas, created a tutoring program with Merced High School. In the spring, the pair spent two hours each week tutoring about 20 students who were in danger of failing the English section of the California High School Exit Exam.

LLI program manager Dario Collado says he is extremely proud of the inaugural class of participants who attended the program last summer, pointing out that two of the five universities, UC Merced and Texas A&M International, will have student commencement speakers who were LLI participants. Dulcemaria Anaya will be the student speaker at UC Merced's commencement on Saturday.

"This shows the quality of the students; they obviously had leadership potential to start with," he said. "We worked to enhance those skills while they were here at Harvard."

Collado added that he is very excited to have UC Merced as one of the LLI partner schools again and looks forward to what this year's class will bring to the program.