Julissa Barrera learned over her years as a student at The University of Texas-Pan American that leadership requires creativity, determination and perseverance.
For her final project as a member of the four-year Student Leadership Program at the University, Barrera created, researched and implemented a drive in which she successfully collected nearly 8,000 diapers to give to clients of AVANCE Rio Grande Valley, a local nonprofit agency providing services to lower income Valley families.
"Conducting the drive took a lot of initiative, a lot of planning, and a lot of problem solving. The skills I learned from the Student Leadership Program really helped me with this," Barrera said, adding she was struck by people's willingness to give. "I saw people are compassionate, they are generous and they are very giving. It was really a humbling experience to see so many people receptive to this drive and what I was trying to do."
Barrera said she decided on collecting diapers because they are a necessary expense for families and she found no safety net programs like WIC, Medicaid or Medicare that provide support for diapers.
"So I really felt that this was needed," she said.
"The families have great needs and it's so hard to find donations and generous people who are always ready to give. When the students selected us, it's, you know, a blessing. It's a great honor because now we have something more to offer our families," she said.
Students in the four-year Student Leadership Program, which generally starts with 25 each year, are selected as incoming freshmen based on high school academic performance, participation in school and community activities and recommendations and a personal interview. While in the program, students meet on a regular basis with a mentor; attend regularly scheduled small group seminars, leadership classes, informational meetings and special events; participate in community service projects and campus organizations; and serve on campus committees. During their third and fourth year, student leaders, like Barrera, are expected to research and complete a senior leadership project. While in the program, students qualify for a $1,500 per academic year scholarship.
Dolores Villarreal, the program's coordinator, said past community service projects by student leaders have included participation in Paint McAllen Beautiful, Graffiti Clean Up Day in San Benito's Skate Park, and Adopt-A-School, which provided grounds clean up and beautification as well as playground supplies for a school in Reynosa, Mexico.
"The students have so many ideas; they're from simple to big ideas. It's really great to have them find that one that really touches their heart and means something for them, and then see them work on it, realize it and then carry it out," she said.
Winning the $100 prize, donated by Barrera's parents, for the most diapers collected was the UTPA Greek Council. Other student organizations that participated included the Catholic Campus Ministry, Alpha Lambda Delta, Biology Club, American Sign Language Club, National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, Political Science Association, Social Work Student Association, Student Nursing Organization and Psychology Club.
Barrera, who plans to one day become an occupational therapist, said the program taught her a lot about taking on a leadership role.
"I got so much out of the leadership program. I've met so many people, made so many connections, met faculty and community mentors who have been very helpful in my success. It taught me how to serve others and how to be a leader in doing that," she said.
For more information on the Student Leadership Program, call 956/381-2659 or e-mail Villarreal at firstname.lastname@example.org.