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High School Students Tackle State Issues, College Prep at UT’s “Subiendo”

High school students at Subiendo AcademyNext week 80 high school juniors from across Texas will arrive in Austin for the fourth annual Subiendo: The Academy for Rising Leaders. For many, it’s their first time on a university campus, but the organization wants to ensure that it isn’t the last.

The students will participate in a free weeklong academy where they will work on extensive group projects, meet with leaders from the business, policy, and nonprofit sectors, attend a college and career fair, and learn how to prepare for the transition to college the following year.

This year the students will work to find solutions to three of the state’s most pressing issues: water, healthcare, and higher education. Students will discuss their projects with business leaders and policy makers, including State Representatives Trey Martinez Fischer and Mark Strama.

“We’re trying to encourage kids to think long term and how they can be a factor of change,” says Subiendo director Leticia Acosta.

Subiendo, which means “rising” in Spanish, runs from June 23 to June 27, but Acosta says it doesn’t end when the students return home. One of Subiendo’s goals is to stay engaged with participants through the next chapter of their life: applying to and enrolling in college. Current university students—mostly from UT—serve as Subiendo team leaders and remain in the student’s life as mentors even after the program ends, reading over their college essays, helping them manage university deadlines, or simply being a friend. Three of this year's team leaders are themselves former Subiendo participants.

That kind of support system is important, particularly for first generation college-goers. In this year's Subiendo class, 58 percent will be the first in their families to attend college. In some cases, Acosta says students’ families may be hesitant about them attending college.

“Our students want to be on college campuses so badly, but some struggle at home with families that want to keep them close and maybe don’t understand the value of this investment in their future,” she says.

Academically, the kids are ready. These students are some of the best performing in their school, with 72 percent of admitted juniors in the top 10 percent of their class. But Subiendo wants to make sure they are not held back by other factors—like poverty. This year, 88 percent of the admitted students come from low income households. Equipping students with the ability to plan financially, budget, balance a checkbook, and apply for scholarships is an important part of the process, Acosta says.

Any Texas junior can apply to Subiendo, though admission is selective. For evidence of that, just look to their college enrollment rates. In the fall, 40 percent of last year’s students will begin their first semester at The University of Texas in Austin. There isn’t an official number for students enrolled in college from last year yet. But if the Subiendo class of 2012 is similar to years past, then it could be more than 70 percent. Acosta says she’s happy for the students to be in college, whether it’s at UT or elsewhere. Seeing successful students is what keeps Acosta so passionate. “It’s our entire mission to provide these students with a support network and inspire them to be leaders.”

Portions of this story were originally published on UT's Know website.

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