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Student Joins Young Latina Leaders at Washington, D.C. Conference

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUG. 1, 2013Rachel Ballesteros, a 22-year-old senior and STARS [South Texas Academic Rising Scholars] scholarship student at The University of Texas at Brownsville, said it pays to read the online campus announcements.

“The announcement to apply for the Latinas Learning to Lead Program in Washington, D.C., jumped out at me,” Ballesteros said. “I thought, ‘I would really love to be part of this program, so I’ll apply and see if I get in.

Rachel Ballesteros Rachel Ballesteros

Meeting the deadline in early May with no time to spare, Ballesteros held her breath for about a month until receiving the exciting message that she had been selected as one of 22 female students from throughout the United States to participate in the 2013 summer program of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, celebrating its 25th anniversary year.

“Attending the conference was such an amazing week for me,” Ballesteros said. “Everything was so carefully planned – we were busy from early morning until late every evening – and I learned so much and came back incredibly inspired.”

Making their home in a dormitory at The Catholic University of America, the group attended classes held in university facilities during the first two days of the conference. Starting on day three, they ventured forth to tour the sights, witness Congress in session from the House of Representatives viewers’ gallery and attend presentations by motivational speakers.

Among the speakers was Marisa Rivera, the President of Mpowerment Works, a consulting firm with a focus on empowering and impacting women to become agents of social change.

“Ms. Rivera was such an impressive speaker,” Ballesteros said. “She stressed the need for more Latina women to enter the professional world, that few Latina women are in powerful positions; and that is what we saw when we visited the House of Representatives, where it was pretty much all men.”

One day was devoted to job shadowing. Ballesteros was matched to spend the day at the National Education Association with Delia Garcia, Senior Liaison for the Latino American Community in the Office of Minority Community Organizing and Partnerships.

“My shadowing day was very reassuring that I am where I want to be – in education,” Ballesteros said.

Ballesteros plans a career in guidance and counseling. She will graduate from UTB in December of this year with her Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences with a concentration in psychology and sociology. Currently in the process of applying to graduate school, she plans to attain a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling.

A 2009 Harlingen High School graduate, Ballesteros is the second to last of 10 children, and the first in her family to achieve a higher education degree. She earned her Associate of Culinary Arts from Texas State Technical College in Harlingen. By the time she received her degree, however, she knew her calling was guidance and counseling in education, prompting her to continue her studies at UTB.

While at TSTC, Ballesteros worked as a peer mentor at the Office of Student Success where her job was to help students on academic probation.

“I was always calling or texting my students, constantly trying to motivate them to be successful in their classes,” she said. “Many students are uncomfortable approaching professors, or even staff, yet they could talk to me, since we were about the same age and in the same boat. I found it to be worthwhile work, and especially rewarding when I got positive feedback from my students and they were doing well.”

Since transferring to UTB in August of 2012, Ballesteros has continued working with students as an Upward Bound tutor at Rio Hondo High School. With classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she worked at the high school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Over the first six weeks of this summer, she accompanied her Rio Hondo Upward Bound students during their on-campus residential experience as a Resident Assistant in Casa Bella, UTB’s student housing. This fall, she will return to being a tutor at the high school. After graduation from UTB, Ballesteros hopes to continue with Upward Bound as an academic advisor for the next three years while she works on her master’s degree.

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