Fieldhouse full of students seated on chairs, watching presentation by man on stage, with two projections on either side of stage

Latino high school students find community and connections on campus

More than 1,000 high school students found their community at Grand Valley May 6 during a Latino youth conference.

The conference was hosted by the Advocates for Latino Student Advancement in Michigan Education (Alsame), a nonprofit organization committed to making college education a reality for Latino students in Michigan. 

Michael Guerra, GVSU admissions counselor and conference co-chair, opened the conference at the Fieldhouse Arena and told the audience "this is what community looks like."

"After today, don't feel like you are alone," said Guerra, also vice chair of Alsame. "If you have questions about college or need resources at any time after today, let us know."

Ovidilio Vasquez, keynote speaker, is in the midst of the audience at the Fieldhouse
Ovidilio Vasquez, keynote speaker, is pictured at the Alsame Latino Youth Conference May 6 at the Fieldhouse Arena.
Amanda Pitts
young students dancing on Fieldhouse floor
More than 1,000 Latino high school students from across Michigan attended the event.
Amanda Pitts
four students standing, center student laughing and person on right is wearing a mask
The conference featured a college fair and personal and professional workshops.
Amanda Pitts

Yanyssa Ochoa, a sophomore from Holland High School, said she was most excited about the college and career fair, staffed by representatives from Michigan colleges and universities. 

Jacob Toledo, a ninth grade student from Catholic Central, said it was nice to be surrounded by so many other people from similar backgrounds. "We have lots of stuff in common," Toledo said.

President Philomena V. Mantella welcomed participants and said they are in charge of their education.

"You are the folks we need to be listening to to understand how we evolve education to be more impactful for learners," Mantella said. "You are in charge, bringing your passion, purpose and mission in life. We are your guides, not the people in charge of your education."

President Mantella seated, speaks to Lupe Ramos, who has back to camera and is wearing a blue-green jacket.
President Philomena V. Mantella talks with Lupe Ramos-Montigny, chair of the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez.
Amanda Pitts
Daniel C. Vélez, associate vice president for Admissions and Recruitment, welcomes participants to the Alsame Latino Youth Conference.
Daniel C. Vélez, associate vice president for Admissions and Recruitment, welcomes participants to the Alsame Latino Youth Conference.
Amanda Pitts
Salvador Lopez, right, introduces conference co-chairs and Admissions staff members Elizabeth Arangure-Martinez, far left, and Michael Guerra.
Salvador Lopez, right, introduces conference co-chairs and Admissions staff members Elizabeth Arangure-Martinez, far left, and Michael Guerra.
Amanda Pitts

Five scholarship recipients were announced. Salvador Lopez, co-chair of Alsame and president of KConnect, a nonprofit network dedicated to addressing inequity impacting children in Kent County, said scholarship money for recipients varied from $2,500-5,000 and can be used at any Michigan college or university for any expense.

Lopez, former GVSU associate admissions director, said the 1,000 students in the Fieldhouse represented about 5 percent of all Latino youth in Michigan.

Ovidilio Vasquez was the keynote speaker. Vasquez was a farm worker in Central America who attended Harvard Business School Online and has authored six books.

Alsame