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Hispanic students become leaders at HCC Honors College

November 13, 2021 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — One wants to be an aerospace engineer, the other a labor and delivery nurse.

Both are finding paths to their goals through a program at Hillsborough Community College that takes Honors College students and turns them into agents of change.

“We have a great opportunity to meet people in strategic positions, and to hear their testimony and experiences,” said the would-be engineer, Peruvian-born Kevin Ospina, 18.

Natalia Philippus, 21, the future nurse, is developing her social skills through the HCC Leadership program.

“I think it’s a great class to build our leadership skills and improve our communication,” she said.

The Leadership program is required for HCC’s 278 Honors College students. The largest share of them, 44 percent, are Hispanic.

The program explores the values of a leader, and how to set personal goals with an eye toward helping the larger community. It has been part of the Honors College since its creation in 1996.

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Among the requirements of Honors College applicants are college-level reading and writing skills and a grade-point average of 3.4 or higher. They also must be pursuing an associate’s degree at the college.

“First of all we are talking about a personal discovery, because we want to reach an understanding of what leadership means, so our students can learn to take action,” said Odette Figueruelo, a language and education professor in the Leadership course.

Students must complete a project addressing a need in the community, putting into practice the leadership lessons they learn.

Their lessons come, in part, through presentations from experts and authorities. This year, they include Melissa Morgado, supervisor of world languages with the Hillsborough County School District; Dennis Small, former Hispanic liaison officer with the Tampa Police Department; and Anthony Perez, former chairperson of the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Committee and the current chairperson of the University of South Florida Latin Advisory Committee.

“The exciting part for me is when our community leaders have the chance to talk to our students about leadership,” said Figueruelo, who came to the United States with her parents at 15 after living in Cuba and Spain. “It’s a life experience.”

Student Thomas Erdos, a 23-year-old student from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said the program is helping him develop the awareness of a leader.

“All of this is a source of inspiration,” said Erdos, who is studying to become an orbital trajectory design engineer.

Students also learn how to apply for jobs and scholarships. They underwent mock interviews recently with Aimee Busquet, associate dean of academic affairs at HCC, and Ann Menchen, a volunteer with the HCC Foundation.

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In Figueruelo’s Leadership course, they take field trips to museums, universities and government offices, and one day recently visited the Tampa Bay History Center and the USF School of Medicine. They also met with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

This field trip was arranged through the Development Accelerator for Latinos Education, or DALE, a program run by the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Council that encourages local Hispanic students to pursue higher education as a means of increasing the talent, innovation and diversity of the local workforce.

Said Perez, “Listening to the students talk about how much fun they are having, watching them exchange ideas on career choices as they open their minds to all the possibilities, tells me we are doing something right.”