GEAR UP students participate in Young Leaders Conference
Posted: 07/16/2004
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With dreams of becoming an engineer, seventeen year-old Edgar Fernandez understands the importance of being a great leader.

Sixteen year-old Laura Salinas from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district introduces herself to more than 100 students during the first day of the Young Leaders Conference held at UTPA.

As a participant of the Young Leaders Conference held at The University of Texas-Pan American July 12-17, Fernandez learned first-hand just how he can become a leader in his community.

"I'm expecting to learn how I can express my mind a little more," Fernandez said during the first day of the weeklong conference.

More than 100 students from the GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) participated in the conference, which is part of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI).

The conference, which was held at UTPA for the first time, focuses on helping Latino students explore and debate issues that impact their communities. This year discussion issues focused on diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Students received training on how to formulate arguments in four different areas - oral interpretation, cross examination, mock trial and extemporaneous speaking.

The conference included a final debate held Friday where students were required to use the skills they learned throughout the week and implement during their speeches.

GEAR UP students help their neigbors relax before starting the Young Leaders Conference.

Julio Cotto, NHI representative, told students one way to be a great leader is by sharpening communication skills through public speaking.

"Through the use of a microphone, the use of your voice, we know that each one of you has the potential to lead," he said.

GEAR UP representatives said they were glad to have the conference at UTPA because it helped students understand the need to improve their leadership and communication skills.

"(The program) helps students develop leadership and communication skills, which makes the kids more confident," said Marla Contreras, GEAR UP project coordinator. "And strong leadership is a pathway to becoming successful, not only in college, but also in future careers."

For more information on the GEAR UP program, call 956/381-3607.