Minority students to hone leadership skills at Harvard

06/19/2012 12:28 AM

06/19/2012 10:28 AM

Having lived in a migrant camp in Planada for the last five years, Rubi Almanza never imagined she would one day get to go to Harvard University.

The UC Merced junior is thrilled to be able to travel to the Ivy League university to participate in a training program designed to develop skills in future Latino leaders.

Almanza, 21, whose parents work in the fields, is one of five UC Merced students selected to participate in the Latino Leadership Initiative program at Harvard University Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership.

The program was developed to address the rapid growth of the Latino population and the lack of Latino leaders across all sectors of society, according to UC Merced officials. This is the program's third year.

"I feel very excited," Almanza said, who lives with her parents at the Bear Creek Housing Community, a migrant camp in Planada -- one of the most underserved communities in Merced County. "I didn't expect it."

Almanza said leadership skills will be important after she completes her degree.

"I want to be a teacher," she said. "These skills are going to be really helpful in the classroom. I think the job of a teacher is more of a leader. Students look up to you, for example, to conduct themselves."

Majoring in mathematics, her goal is to return to her high school, Le Grand, to become a math teacher.

Almanza said she's never held a leadership position with a club or an organization, and the one-week program at Harvard is designed to give her the skills to take a more active role in her community and her profession.

She said that as a teacher, she will use those tools to serve as an example for students to follow.

Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor of Student Affairs at UC Merced, said there are 60 students nationwide -- including five at UC Merced -- who are taking part in the program.

It's a great opportunity for students locally, she said, especially since UC Merced is the only UC campus represented and one of just seven universities in the country to participate.

"It means that they (the students) have the chance to study with some of the most prominent scholars in the areas of leadership," she said.

Other participating students at UC Merced include Baltazar Cornejo, a junior from Modesto; Adriana Lopez, a junior from Bakersfield; Stephanie Toledo, a junior from La Mirada; and Yolanda Villanueva, a junior from Wasco.

The students will depart to Cambridge, Mass., this Saturday, the cost of which is covered entirely by the Harvard program. When students return, they will be assigned to work on a project to give back to the community.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at

(209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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