COE’s annual National Student Leadership Congress for first-generation high school students, with its visits to the Capitol and participation in debates, is often described as transformational for the young people who participate in the five-day experience. The 33rd annual NSLC occurred in mid-June, but the students weren’t the only ones bubbling over with excitement. TRIO staff also commends NSLC for the experience it provided them.
“I would encourage every TRIO professional to take this opportunity because it gives you a unique chance to grow as a person and as a professional,” said Juan C. Rivera-Ramos, a TRIO alumnus and counselor for the University of Puerto Rico. He said he attended his first NSLC four years ago but learns something new every time he attends. “It’s all about the students,” he said. “Counselors who attend get to be with diverse students from all over the country.”
He said he noticed immediately that the NSLC this year had several students from Puerto Rico, and he made sure to meet them and welcome them. “But I also learned a lot from Alaska, Alabama, and New York students. The NSLC gives TRIO staff a wide perspective on what a student is living.”
Sydnie Romero agreed. A former TRIO student and current Upward Bound instructor at her alma mater, the Homestead campus of Miami Dade College, she said, “Seeing the diversity was a joy in itself, and I would encourage other professionals to be a part of that.” Romero said that she especially enjoyed seeing student leadership growth and how students felt freed from their roles at home. “Introverts became extroverts,” she said of the students. She recalled one young man from Montana who said he didn’t think that at home he could be so relaxed and as much himself as he was at the NSLC, to which a new friend from New Jersey spoke up and encouraged him to give it a try once he got home.
“Students who started as strangers learned to respect and love each other during a couple of days,” Rivera-Ramos said. “They learned a very different kind of leadership. It is collaborative and helps them grow as people.”
Both Rivera-Ramos and Romero thought the Mock Congress helped students showcase their strengths, some of which they didn’t know they had. “The Mock Congress is the cornerstone of the event,” Rivera-Ramos said. “The students debate diverse topics. Even during the presentations, they are so supportive. That is why NSLC is so transformational. It starts as a competition, but it ends up as a community project,” he said.
“Only one group didn’t finish their presentation in the two-minute limit,” Romero said. “But every group did an amazing job. The students you didn’t think would ever be a presenter took on that role and wanted to get their voices out there. Even those who said they were nervous stood up and did a good job,” she said.
Rivera-Ramos summed up the experience he and other TRIO professionals had at the NSLC. “You have the opportunity to work with these smart and supportive kids. Students that can visit the Capitol and talk with their congress members, letting them know that TRIO works, and you see how they grow and transform themselves during the process,” he said. “They arrive in D.C. scared and return to their hometowns as a different person. The whole experience of NSLC empowers them.”