I am a native New Mexican (from Roswell, N.M.—yep, the alien one!) and a first-generation college student. Prior to coming home to New Mexico, I had the pleasure of serving as the Executive Director of Development and Marketing for Southwest Airlines’s Community Partner, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in San Antonio, Texas. I also have had the distinct pleasure and honor of being part of the ¡Lánzate! program since its inception in 2004.
The ¡Lánzate! program is geared toward Hispanic college students with economic need who attend school far away from home. Each year, these students, ranging from incoming freshmen through graduate students, submit essays displaying their need for travel on Southwest Airlines. In my experience with this invaluable program, I have gone from co-creating the program with Christine Ortega of Southwest Airlines, to serving as a judge for the past 5 years. In my role as a judge, I serve on a panel made up of college professors and educational advocates who meet each year to determine the award recipients.
2014 Selection Committee Front Row (L to R): Elia Quintana, Dr. Antonio Flores, Christine Ortega, Dr. Cuauhtemoc Avila; Jeannette Morales Second Row (L to R): Lorena Blanco-Silva, Frankie Miranda, Dr. Patricia Witherspoon, Florencia V. Fortner, Dr. Etiony Aldarondo, Dr. Gilberto Cardenas, Antonio Calderon, Juan Salgado, Dr. Allison Cotton
I recall reading those first applications and listening to the stories from the students, stories so much like my own and that of my friends and family. Students, particularly the first-generation college students, had already faced incredible challenges to graduate high school, apply to college, and then had the courage and tenacity to pursue their education far away from home because it was the best program in the country. This was a shining example that the program was having an impact and really accomplishing what we envisioned all those years ago.
The most rewarding part of being involved in the program has been to know that it provides a light at the end of the tunnel for our students. Over and over, they express how homesick they get and how just the idea of being home for holidays or having their parents visit their campus for the first time, sometimes not until graduation, gives them hope and reminds them why they are working so hard at college. The students are also very aware of how they are leading the way and opening the doors for their siblings, cousins, and friends. They take the responsibility very seriously and reiterate the importance of keeping those familial ties strong so they don’t only lift themselves but their entire communities throughout their journeys.
Southwest Airlines, in partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, has awarded 90 students with complimentary roundtrip airfare as part of the ¡Lánzate!/Take Off! travel award program. To view the full list of 2014 winners, please visit www.hacu.net.