ASU’s César Chávez Leadership Institute

Hispanic Community August 2023 PREMIUM
Arizona State University's César Chávez Leadership Institute, which honors Cesar Chávez's legacy, offers a no-cost residential summer program for high school juniors and seniors, providing guidance and resources to help diverse students pursue higher education, fostering personal growth and leadership.

Inspiring Students to become Leaders while Exploring College

by Rocque Perez

In the vibrant landscape of higher education, Arizona State University remains committed to the success of students of diverse cultures and identities, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Through the Cesar Chávez Leadership Institute, rising high school juniors and seniors can explore a no-cost residential summer program that provides a pathway to college.

At the heart of the program lies a high-energy experience that welcomes students to embark on a one-week journey of self-discovery, encouraging participants to view higher education as a vehicle for personal growth and a way to catalyze change as emerging young leaders. 

Among the offerings of this program is guidance from advisors on all aspects of a university application and experience. Advisors assist students in planning and financing a college education, offer tips on constructing personal statements that translate interests into meaningful careers, and coach them on public speaking. Attendees also explore their interests by volunteering through a service project, and team-building exercises with elected officials.

“ASU’s commitment to the success of Hispanic and Latino families is unwavering,” said Vanessa Ruiz, deputy vice president for outreach. “Our programs allow participants to envision themselves at the university. Through campus tours, resources, tools, and engagements, ASU ensures they feel the transformative power of higher education.” 

Since the inception of this experience in 1995, it has touched the lives of more than 1,400 participants, offering an enriching path to academic and personal excellence. In June of 2022, ASU invited 88 participants and the impact was resoundingly positive. An overwhelming 97% of participants agreed that the experience helped develop them as leaders, while 95% felt a deep sense of connection to ASU. Its efficacy in preparing students for college was evident, with 100% expressing that they learned actionable steps to navigate the college journey and felt more prepared for the road ahead.

“I loved participating. The people were great. I learned more about my path to college and how to be a leader,” said Summer, a participant in a recent cohort.

The institute embraces the legacy of its namesake, César Chávez, as the framework for its programming. Born in Yuma, Arizona, Chávez rose from humble beginnings to become an iconic figure who dedicated his life to social justice and empowering marginalized communities. 

Chávez attended school until eighth grade, when he began work with his family in the fields of California, where they faced unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Alongside his family and others, Chávez formed the United Farm Workers, a union that then organized a major strike against agricultural growers to obtain contracts and improve conditions for laborers. In 1991, ASU Professor José Náñez nominated Chávez to receive an honorary doctorate on behalf of ASU. In the spring of 1992, Chávez was awarded the degree and participated in commencement ceremonies. Since his untimely death the following year, Chávez has been recognized by the highest civilian honor in the United States, bestowed upon him posthumously by President Clinton in 1995, and in 2012 was recognized by President Obama through a national monument in Keene, California.

Today, the spirit of Chávez lives on through the efforts of the institute, which draws support from the César E. Chávez Foundation, members of the Chávez family, and the tireless work of ASU staff, volunteers, and alumni. Their commitment to the institute inspires future leaders to carry on his legacy.

Bianca Lucero, a participant from the first cohort and among the first to graduate as a proud alumna, embodies the impact of the institute. As the eldest of three siblings , Lucero credits the experience for shaping her trajectory.

In 1999, Lucero first graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and later earned a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management. She worked at ASU as a community relations coordinator for six years, allowing her to connect communities to world-class artists, innovative art programs, and cultural resources. Later she was hired as a director, where she had an integral role in creating events core to the ASU experience. 

For her professional contributions as an outstanding role model, Lucero was chosen as a recipient of the Arizona Hispanic 40 Under 40 Award. Thereafter, she went on to serve on the institute’s advisory committee and now works for a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization located in Washington, D.C., working to ensure the participation of Latinos in the American political process, from citizenship to public service. 

“My commitment to improving the quality of life in Arizona has been a common thread through my personal and professional endeavors. I feel fortunate that I learned at a young age what servant leadership means and I have tried to embody that through making positive changes that benefit the people and organizations in my community,” said Lucero. “While in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in the César E. Chávez Leadership Institute and I consider this a pivotal turning point. Prior to the institute, I was determined to attend college out of state. Needless to say, I am a proud alumna and credit the institute for inspiring my passion for civic leadership and a deep-rooted love for Arizona.”

ASU is committed to serving those who wish to pursue a college degree regardless of their background, which has garnered prestigious recognition. In 2019, ASU was among the inaugural group of universities to earn the Seal of Excelencia, a comprehensive certification granted by Excelencia in Education, which recognizes institutions that have made the greatest efforts  to serve Latino students and other historically underrepresented identities. Three years later, ASU was among the first universities to be recertified. This recognition and its designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution affirms ASU’s unwavering dedication to an environment where every student can thrive. •

About the author:

Rocque Perez is a proud ‘first-gen’ from Southern Arizona. He is a communications manager in the Office of the Provost at Arizona State University, where he is responsible for positioning ASU’s designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution. He is also charged with an enterprise-wide ecosystem that supports practices and philosophies that generate greater outcomes of representation, a sense of belonging and success.

Share with:

Product information

Post a Job

Post a job in higher education?

Place your job ad in our classified page on the HO print & digital Edition