Sergio Gonzalez was 15 years old the first time he attended Harper College’s Latino Summit.
The experience, he says, transformed him from a high school freshman not sold on the idea of college to an inspired teenager who knew with certainty that higher education was in his future.
That was 2002.
The next nine years would see him graduate from Maine West High School and the University of Illinois, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering proudly under his belt.
This fall, he returned to Harper’s campus and the Summit, marking the event’s 10th anniversary by telling a gymnasium full of Latino teenagers that they can make it, too.
Going to college should never a question of “if,” he told them, adding that advanced degrees – including doctorates – should never seem like an impossible or unattainable dream.
“I want to give back, and I believe the best way to do that is by encouraging and inspiring youth to continue their education,” Gonzalez said. “I want to show students they can go to college and they can be successful.”
He was among about 60 Latino professionals who shared their stories as part of this year’s event; the all-day Summit also featured more than 50 current Latino college students, who talked about their experiences on two- and four-year campuses.
Together, they stressed the value of higher education and the importance of staying in school amid the reality that Latino students seek out college less frequently than their peers.
More than 400 Latino freshmen from 13 local high schools attended the Summit’s 10th anniversary edition, touring campus and hearing from motivational speaker Lourdes Ferrer – an educational consultant who has interviewed hundreds of middle- and high school minority students to discover the reason for their achievement struggles – as part of their day.
"Many who attend may come from families where going to college isn't a sure thing. They need to see others just like them who've been successful," Recruiting Specialist Juanita Bassler says. "We want them to set goals for high school, college and beyond."
The College will host local Latino juniors and seniors this spring, at an event aimed at helping them move forward with their more specific higher education goals.