More than 100 high school seniors are at the University of North Texas this week preparing for the biggest game of their lives.
The students are players in the Collegiate World Series led by the National Hispanic Institute, a Texas nonprofit organization. The series is not a sports contest but an intensive college preparation program for Latino seniors who will be the first in their families to attend college.
UNT, which is playing host to the program for the first time, is one of three national sites for this year’s series.
Participants are “drafted” into one of nine teams and “coached” by the college admissions counselors on how to draft admission essays, seek financial aid, complete a college application and secure favorable letters of recommendation. The students also picked up skills for interviewing, time management, making choices and understanding various societal aspects.
Students from Texas, New Mexico, Mexico and Puerto Rico have traveled to UNT for the five-day event, said Nicole Nieto de Sada, executive vice president for the Maxwell-based organization.
The event concludes today.
She said that students are learning about the college admissions process and “how to make critical life choices regarding college, careers and community calling,” adding that it’s expensive to attend college.
This week’s program equips students with tips for being accepted into a higher education institution and for being successful throughout their collegiate experience.
“I want them to feel that they’re very talented and have a lot to offer and that they can choose their college experience and make the most of it so that they get the maximum value out of it,” Nieto de Sada said.
Ninety-eight percent of students who participate in National Hispanic Institute programs attend college, she said.
The students who participate enter four-year institutions and graduate in four to five years at a 90 percent rate, according to Nieto de Sada.
Seventy percent of the organization’s alumni go onto pursue postgraduate studies, she said.
The Collegiate World Series is the culmination of three programs the National Hispanic Institute offers for high school students.
The organization’s ninth-grade program focuses on developing communication capabilities and critical-thinking skills through debate, said Chris Nieto, a program educational director for the organization.
Tenth-graders attend a program with a focus on governance and how to apply leadership in the community, he said. Nieto, who serves as commissioner for the Collegiate World Series, said the final program prepares students for the transition into college and life after college.
He says he’s hopeful participants keep ties with the organization.
It’s also an opportunity for students to “actively seek opportunities to get involved in community life and take on more leadership roles in the life of people,” Nieto said.
“We want them to see this as a place where they learn and grow,” he said.
Marina Hernandez of Floresville said she’s participated in all three programs offered for high school students. She said they’ve helped her build confidence and improve her speaking skills. She said the program has shown her what it means to work with others.
“It has broadened my horizons and created a lifelong network,” said Hernandez, who will be a senior this year at Floresville High School. “You have to feed off of others and combine your ideas to have a successful product.”
Nathaniel Hanson of San Antonio said the program is “a peek behind the curtain” at how to get into college.
Several students said the series was an opportunity to have one-on-one time with college counselors and learn what they look for in prospective applicants.
“This is really where you decide this is what I want to do with my future,” said Ilanna Villagran of San Antonio.
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.