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Wyoming Latina Youth Conference: A Legacy Toward a Holistic Educational Empowerment Process

                This past October marks the 21st year of the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference (WLYC). I met with Dr. Cecilia J. Aragón to learn about its’ history and future aspirations of WLYC. Dr. Aragón is a University of Wyoming Professor in Latina/o Studies and Theatre and Dance, and she is also the first named Executive Director of WLYC, since 2016.

                The conference is geared to 5th-12th grade young Latinas, and is an educational pipeline program at UW. WLYC uses a few concepts as pillars of guidance, which create the workshops that the young Latinas experience during the conference. These pillars include financial literacy, STEM, leadership, creativity, mental and physical well-being, entrepreneurship, and cultural arts. During their three day conference, the young women learn from national keynote speakers, near-peer mentors in college, and workshop presenters. They also have fun in safe spaces such as the end of conference awards banquet and dance. Over 250+ participants attend the WLYC, and there are school partners across the state of Wyoming who encourage their students to take part in this holistic experience.

                The history of WLYC is one of partnership and hope, for Ann Esquibel Redman founded it after conversations about the current hardships many Latinas face in Wyoming. In 1999, she had met with representatives from the United States Department of Health. They were interested in current public health issues experienced by Latinas in the state of Wyoming. At this time, she and a committee of others in Wyoming put together a report examining various public health issues experienced by Wyoming Latinas. Uniting with this group of professionals and community members along with educational partners in Cheyenne, they designed a conference geared to young Latinas about the power of choice. From the beginning, they also wanted to make sure that they had teen input in the workshops and speakers being introduced. Thus, they consistently invited teen advisors to their conference planning committee.

                Throughout the years, the WLYC has invited some remarkable keynote speakers to present to the young Latinas on the nature of choice, the importance of leadership, and a variety of other elements crucial for success. In 2008, they invited Colonel Dolores Castillo Kickbush, who was the highest-ranking woman in the Combat Support Field of the United States Army. The keynote speaker for 2011 was Dolores Huerta, one of the most famous and celebrated Latinas in the U.S who worked closely with Cesar Chavez.  Linda Alvarado, President and Chief Executive Officer of Alvarado Construction Inc. and the first Latino/Latina baseball team owner, was the keynote speaker for 2017. These are just a few of the fantastic speakers who have been involved with WLYC.

                The WLYC started in Cheyenne, thanks to the community partnerships formed along with the continual involvement of the Laramie County Community College and other government offices under the purview of the Governor. In 2016, WLYC moved to the University of Wyoming (UW) to expand the outreach and encourage educational pipelines for young women interested in pursuing community college and university education. WLYC currently has a scholarship-accompanying college mentor program to encourage UW freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, to support the conference participants. In addition, they often will help develop the conference along with the rest of the leadership structure. One of the goals moving forward for WLYC is to establish a center on campus that provides direction for the conference and space for support and resource connection across the state.  In addition, Dr. Aragón mentioned how she would like to see an alumna directory that will help other conference participants network and create a workplace mentorship for graduating WLYC participants at UW.

                If you would like to assist the WLYC, you can donate by following this link: Link. As an educator or administrator, you can also let people know about the conference as well as any conference scholarships so that more students are aware of these opportunities. Here is the link to the WLYC Conference webpage: Link. If you would like more information about the WLYC, please reach out to WLYC Executive Director, ccaragon@uwyo.edu.
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