More than 120 high school students gained a glimpse at what it takes to succeed in college and in life during the National Hispanic Institute's International Collegiate World Series, held at main campus from June 13-17. This is the second year Saint Leo University partnered with NHI to host the conference.

While it's no baseball tournament, the Collegiate World Series, known to participants as CWS, is the third of three programs designed by NHI for high school students with high potential to become leaders within the United States and global Latino communities. Students from Panama and 11 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) attended this year's CWS at Saint Leo.

"We are proud to again partner with the National Hispanic Institute for the Collegiate World Series," said Dr. Jeffrey D. Senese, Saint Leo University president. "NHI holds the same values as Saint Leo University—both instill the drive for excellence and encourage respect for all. Saint Leo welcomes learners of all backgrounds. We are excited to welcome these young people to our campus and help them learn about college life and all that it offers."

At the opening ceremony, Zachary D. Gonzalez, associate vice president and director of the Collegiate World Series, told the high school students they were embarking on a journey of "building your brand." Their journey would allow them to ask critical questions about their futures.

Nicole Nieto Sada, executive vice president and CFO of NHI, and daughter of founder Ernesto Nieto, told the students, "Our community needs you. You were selected by your community; you were selected by your schools to represent the Latino community. Sitting next to you may be a future congresswoman or congressman, a mayor, or a CEO. This is who you are."

Sada, whose daughters attended this year's CWS at Saint Leo, said the transition to college from high school is also a transition for families. The CWS helps students transition to becoming highly self-managed, highly successful students in college, Sada said. She advised them to stay in touch with all of the university admissions officers they would meet at Saint Leo.

Setting the bar even higher for the attendees was Ana DiDonato, associate vice president for Student Success at Saint Leo University, and a Cuban-Italian American. "I'm hoping there is a president in this room," DiDonato said. "I got so excited knowing I was going to be around so many student leaders and collegiate leaders."

She also pointed to the similarities between the missions and values of Saint Leo and NHI, including cultivating globally responsible citizens. The time spent at a university is a time to grow, learn, and be exposed to different beliefs and cultures, DiDonato said.

During the next few days, the NHI-ers spent time learning how to complete the Common Application, ask for and write recommendation letters, create résumés, and more. And they got to compete against other teams for bragging rights, trophies, prizes, and T-shirts.

"Can we put NHI as an extracurricular?" one student asked about college applications. "Absolutely," was the response. In fact, some universities look for extracurricular participation and apply that criteria for merit scholarships.

"My school is really good about college applications and starting early, but this is an additional resource that I have that my peers don't," said Connor Caldwell, of San Antonio, said about the Collegiate World Series. She hopes to major in computer science and electrical engineering, and minor in dance.

In addition to learning "hard skills," such as completing the applications, the CWS participants practice critical thinking and problem-solving during their time at the conference. And they had an excursion to Tampa as well as a graduation ceremony and dance.

"The CWS introduces them to inquiry-based learning as a useful and effective tool for managing life decisions," Sada said. "The program prepares them for the college application and selection process, but it also readies them to leave the security of their parents' home to enter into adulthood, making it especially valuable to their emotional preparation."

Saint Leo also will welcome another group of future Latino leaders when the university hosts the Latinos in Action Youth Leadership Boot Camp, July 11-13. The camp is designed to provide youths with "the tools, skills, and self-efficacy to succeed academically, as well as becoming visible leaders in their communities," according to the LIA website. The students will stay at Saint Leo, participate in workshops, collaborate with school teams to set goals and plan their year, compete in team-building activities, and enjoy an etiquette dinner, dance, and outdoor recreational activities.