By his own account, Sergio Orozco was a horrible student.
He had a 2.3 high school grade point average and his future seemed limited. “I didn’t believe in college — I didn’t believe in myself.”
But then he attended a Hispanic Youth Leadership Summit in the Magic Valley and everything changed. For the first time, someone asked what he wanted to study in college. And for the first time, Orozco began to imagine himself going on after high school.
Against all odds, he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Idaho that day.
“It changed the whole trajectory of my life,” he said. “I just felt seen.”
Orozco is now an admissions counselor and coordinator for multicultural recruitment at Boise State University, and his story has come full circle. On Wednesday, he was at Southeastern Idaho’s Hispanic Youth Leadership Summit helping students secure opportunities like the one that meant so much to him.
“I’m able to not only connect with students that remind me of myself, but I also am able to remember why it is that I do the work that I do, and why it is that I love higher education,” Orozco said. “I can help remind a student that they are not defined by their GPA. They are much more than that and there are services and schools that will meet them halfway, or meet them the whole way.”
And that’s the highlight of these summits — bridging the gap between students and the services and support they need to continue their education.
More than 800 students from more than 27 middle and high schools were at the event — up from about 700 in 2022. They attended a college fair, applied for scholarships, talked with local employers, and had conversations about how college might fit into their future.
The highlight: some students finished the day with the news that they’d been selected for scholarships — just like the one that changed Orozco’s life.
Omar Raudez, Idaho State University’s director of new student orientation, helped coordinate the event and hoped it would encourage diverse students from smaller areas to find interest in higher education and get involved in leadership.
As a first-generation college student, Raudez said he didn’t understand how to navigate financial aid and scholarships, and an event like the youth summit would’ve helped him have a smoother transition.
“I actually dropped out at 16, but that was because I didn’t have the resources, the information, or the awareness of these services,” he said. “That’s why I’m so passionate about it, because I think the more students that know about this, the fewer that will drop between the cracks.”
The summit also held personal meaning for Raudez because of his connection to J.J. Saldaña, a well-known advocate for Hispanic youth who spearheaded these events around the state. Saldaña’s recent passing sparked Raudez to step up and help more with the summits.
“It’s an honor because I get to continue his legacy in advocating for our students,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can so the students know they have so many opportunities.”
Orozco said that’s what the day is about — getting students to think about their future, no matter their past.
“It’s not about how you start,” he tells students. “It’s always about where you end up.”