From March 19 to March 21, 55 California Latino high school males stayed in APU dorms and attended college-preparatory events in order to get a firsthand experience of what life in higher education is like. Hosted by the Latin American Student Association, the guests attended chapel, classes, a majors fair and workshops to help make the experience of going to college more tangible.

“I think the biggest purpose [of the conference] is helping these boys realize that the stereotypes society places on them doesn’t have to be their reality. We see them breaking them down through an education and changing the way people look at the Latino community,” said junior global studies major Dalia Velasco, the conference director.

This is the second semester Velasco has been involved in helping run the event, and she sees the opportunity as one that embodies the heart of LASA.

“For me, doing this conference is like a ministry, and I think through educating and advancing our communities, I think Christ blesses that and wants us to reach out to those who don’t necessarily have the resources to do so,” Velasco said.

Part of the ministry involves including the guests’ parents as well. In order to make the financial application process easier, particularly for first-generation students, the conference provides a FAFSA workshop.

“If you listen to the stories of these boys and the things that they go through and the blocks that they have, I think it really reflects society. To realize that we are helping these students … in participating and learning more about communities and realizing how we can help each other, is a form of practicing diversity,” Velasco said.

Velasco said that one of her favorite parts of the weekend is the closing ceremony for the guests with their parents present.

“There is a prayer that happens, bringing them all together and helping them see through this conference we’re giving them resources,” said Velasco. “With those resources, they are giving these resources back to the community. We’re passing on the responsibility to them. There’s a sense of being one in that moment and the parents seem to be in tune with it as well.”

The weekend’s events give the opportunity to both introduce different aspects of college and reinforce its importance in the eyes of the high school students.

“I think it’s a great university. People are friendly and nice and it’s just a great environment,” Upland High School junior Martin Munoz said.

Munoz expressed that especially after visiting classes and touring the campus, he understands that college prepares students for a higher level of thinking in preparing to enter the workforce.

He stated that as the community within the event is primarily Latino, he senses a strong sense of support and friendliness among the students.

“The purpose of this event, as I understand it, is to educate underprivileged Latino students as to the confusion of college, to get them through that ambiguous stage of ‘I’m not sure if I want to go to college’ or ‘I’m not sure what college is all about,’ just kind of demystifying college for them in a way and educating them to the realities of what college is and what college life is like,”said freshman accounting major Calvin Gutierrez, a committee leader.

Gutierrez said that he believes the event helps to show the APU community a demographic of students who can often be overlooked by colleges.

“Getting to learn about these kids, where they’re from, how they got here, what made them interested in coming to LSL and what their future goals and aspirations are, what they’re thinking they want to do with their lives. It’s nice to hear there are people with dreams still,” Gutierrez said with a smile.

According to Gutierrez, alongside learning about different majors and academic aspects of college, the guests are able to see how Christian colleges in particular are available to help them. He believes that the conference itself is a time to become more informed in order for the high school students to be able to make important decisions in the future.

“It’s kind of this town-and-gown effect of being able to see the university but within the community, not as an ivory tower but as an accessible place to be, so they can feel comfortable on campus and maybe see others that look like them. For our white students on campus, it’s also an opportunity to begin engaging around that this is what America is beginning to look like more and more,” said Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity Director Aaron Hinojosa.

He said that bringing Latino students on campus helps APU faculty and staff begin to see what the school’s future demographic may look like.

“It gives [the guests] the idea to kind of dream and achieve this opportunity to come to college and what that could look like for their future and what that could look like for their families,” Hinojosa said.

He said that the event also gives APU students in LASA the opportunity to provide high-schoolers with the information they wished they had known when they were in their position.

LASA plans to host a sister event, Latinas Serving Latinas, in fall 2015.