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NHLI in the News

Two Students Head to D.C. for Conference

Stephanie Gonzalez and Daisy Martinez were among 22 chosen

Stover E. Harger III
The Beaverton Valley TImes

Published June 25, 2009

When Sylvia Barajas-Everson found out that two of the Washington County college students she mentored through high school were chosen to participate in a national Latina leadership conference in Washington, D.C., she was ecstatic.

Here were two former first-generation high school students — Stephanie Gonzalez of Aloha and Daisy Martinez of Cornelius — she saw overcome many obstacles in seeking higher education, all while working multiple jobs to pay their way and help support their families. Now they are on a path to great things, she believes, a testament to their perseverance and desire to succeed.

“I was happy to hear they got selected,” she said. “They deserve it. They are two very intelligent ladies.”

Gonzalez and Martinez were chosen from a wide field to take part in the National Hispana Leadership Institute’s Summer Youth Program at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Only 22 college students were invited from across the United States to the weeklong training that is in progress. They are learning a large number of workforce and community-building skills so they can go on to become professionals and leaders.

They were both mentored by Barajas-Everson while Gonzalez was at Aloha High School and Martinez was at Forest Grove High School.

The mentor works for the federally-funded TRIO/Talent Search Program, which is housed at Portland Community College.

The program identifies and assists students from disadvantaged upbringings so that they can succeed in higher education. Barajas-Everson counseled the girls and helped push them to pursue their natural abilities.

Both students eventually went on to college a few years ago, despite economic obstacles. Barajas-Everson has kept in touch with them since they left her program and said she was the one who first pointed them towards applying for the D.C. leadership program.

Martinez, now at Portland State University, is looking to become a teacher. Gonzalez is in the process of transferring from PCC to George Fox University to pursue either political science or education.

To get into and stay in college, Barajas-Everson said, the two women found scholarships, grants and worked jobs — anything they could do to pay their way.

“They’ve had to work part-time, go to school and also they sometimes have financial obligations to their family,” she said. “(They were) able to overcome all that and continue.”

The college students are at the conference this week, but in a press release from PCC they shared their excitement to take part in such a prestigious program and to visit the East Coast, which neither had ever done.

“I want to soak everything up,” Gonzalez said. “I can’t wait to meet these powerful women, who are going to be there, and learn what I can contribute.”