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Program at Guilford College helps Latino, international students find path to college

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Irving Zavaleta created a program at Guilford College that is changing lives.

“The first conference, we had 93 students and this past conference, they had more than 250 students and about 70 parents,” Zavaleta said.

Now in its 11th year, Soy un Lider is a yearly one-day conference for Latino and international high school students thinking about college, but not sure how to make it happen. Soy un Lider means “I’m a leader” in Spanish.

“I knew I had a lot of classmates who were as college ready as I was or even more, but could not make it to school because of financial constraints or documentation status,” said Zavaleta, on his decision to create the conference while he was a student himself at Guilford College in Greensboro. “Me, being privileged to have made it through school, I wanted to make sure I wasn't the only one.”

At Soy un Lider, local high school students will attend workshops and meet with specialists to cover everything from the importance of community service and good grades to how to write a college essay, choosing the right school and applying for financial aid.

Fernando Jimenez came to the conference twice: first as a sophomore in high school and again as a senior.

“I came to Soy un Lider with the intention of getting as much information as I could,” said Jimenez, now a third-year student at Guilford College. “I wanted to be as prepared as I could, and a lot of questions, your counselor can't really answer if you're DACA or undocumented.”

The Soy un Lider conference is held at Guilford College each November and is free for students to attend.

“A lot of this information you can find online but Soy un Lider goes a step further,” student coordinator Jeniffer Gonzalez Reyes said.

She and Daisy Arguello, another student coordinator, agree it’s inspiring being part of something that is helping so many students achieve their college dreams.

“It’s a good thing to boost their confidence and know that there are other options out there,” said Arguello. “It's not easy... but people can do it.”