Skip to main content

News | August 31, 2023

66 Las Vegas Students Complete National Hispanic Institute’s Transformative Leadership Development Program

In year two of National Hispanic Institute’s (NHI) establishment in Las Vegas, made possible through seed funding and support from Sands Cares, the number of participating students and schools has nearly tripled. Over the summer, 66 Las Vegas high school students gained new skillsets and inspiring experiences thanks to NHI’s transformative leadership development programs.

Since 1979, NHI has provided youth with innovative curriculum to cultivate future civic and business leaders by developing skills in communication, community advocacy and policy-making, while preparing participants for success in higher education.

“In just two years since launching in Las Vegas through Sands’ underwriting, we’ve been able to identify and invest in a great group of promising young community leaders capable of understanding, articulating and advocating for solutions to their community’s issues and needs,” Nicole Nieto, executive vice president of National Hispanic Institute, said. “There are so many different voices and really talented and creative people in our community. If we can help them listen, engage and activate, we believe they are able to construct new outcomes for the future that are beneficial for everyone.”

NHI’s transformative leadership development curriculum includes a series of three immersive and progressive programs that prepare students with the skillsets and knowledge to successfully engage in community organizations and the legislative process. Their work in each program level culminates in leadership development and advocacy events held on college campuses during the summer.

The first program track for rising sophomores is preparation for the Great Debate, which emphasizes communications skills as a tool for self-advancement and community change. Year two prepares rising juniors to participate in a democracy through the Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session, which exposes students to governance, organizational development and policy design. Finally, rising seniors participate in the Collegiate World Series, which has a dual focus on preparing students for both college admissions and the call to community leadership.

The programs collectively emphasize asset-based thinking and train youth to view themselves as capable of affecting change through their own resources and strengths.

“Before I did the Collegiate World Series, I really didn’t see how these three programs worked together, because they seem so different,” Madison Messner, a rising senior at West Career & Technical Academy, said. “But I think it’s really about what the programs do to push you that ties them together. They give you confidence to do things you haven’t done before, starting with learning how to speak to people at the Great Debate. Then at LDZ, it’s about pushing yourself forward and figuring things out. The transition to the College World Series comes after you’ve built confidence and can use your communications skills to sell yourself to the college representatives who attend. Now that I’ve done all three, I see a seamless connection to them.”

Among the Las Vegas group, three students have experienced all program levels, including Messner and fellow rising seniors Sabdy Cordon and Orethia Parks. They joined the Great Debate and the LDZ Youth Legislative session as junior counselors and the Collegiate World Series as participants this past summer. Through these experiences, each student has varying experiences in self-discovery and personal development.

“Before NHI, I had challenges with self-motivation,” Parks, a rising senior at Nevada State High School, said. “NHI taught me to celebrate the small accomplishments, not just for myself but for other people too. Something may not be a big deal for you, but it’s a very big deal for them, and celebrating with them keeps them motivated and engaged.”

For Messner, the programs have helped her find her voice. “I did not talk at all before NHI,” she said. “I used to be terrified to talk to people, but NHI has given me the confidence to do anything I want. It also taught me how to engage with different types of people. If we want to be inclusive, we have to push for everyone to be involved, and sometimes that takes effort.”

One plus of the program is its impact on helping solidify participants’ plans for their futures.

“I want to go into policy-making for my career,” Cordon, a rising senior at West Career & Technical Academy, said. “It’s really important we give people a voice. The voices we’re hearing right now are limited to specific people with specific backgrounds. NHI is able to give people who have a different perspective the ability to tap into their skills and their voice. Without NHI, I wouldn’t have been able to learn to become a voice for my community.”

All three students would like to see other young people experience the benefits of NHI’s developmental programs, which may be more critical than ever.

“Because of the climate that we’re in right now, it’s even more important for us to encourage people to participate in NHI so they can find what they’re passionate about, look to the future and think about how we can change,” Parks said.

Cordon believes the ability to draw out their inherent leadership ability is something every student should experience. “It’s a program built for leaders, to bring out the leader that’s already in you – it’s magical,” she said. “We want more people to have the same experiences, which have changed my life. I believe a lot in my community now and others because of NHI.”

For Messner, the greatest opportunity for students comes in unbinding their belief system. “I think the biggest thing that NHI does is teach youth they are limitless,” she said. “You spend eight days with people who tell you that you can fight back against something, then you really feel like you have no limits. When I came back, I felt like I could do anything. It creates the strong leaders we need.”

Sands’ partnership with the National Hispanic Institute to expand its transformative leadership development program is part of the company’s priority on education to help build the workforce of the future. Sands Cares’ educational initiatives span support for scholarships, higher education institutions, mentorship and youth development programs, schools for underserved populations, and academic infrastructure and advocacy organizations.

To learn more about Sands’ commitment to education, read the 2022 ESG Report:

66 Las Vegas Students Complete National Hispanic Institute’s Transformative Leadership Development Program