Student Mentors Into Latino Excellence (SMILE)

The core of the Oregon Leadership Institute is an eight-month leadership, mentoring and career development program for Latino youth created to combat the high dropout rate among Latino students. At colleges across Oregon, a group of Latino students enrolls in a two-hour class every week to discuss mentoring techniques and ways they can support high school student mentees in their area to help them successfully graduate from high school. The major focus of the mentors is to help in facilitating the OLI mentor/ mentee sessions, which are conducted one Saturday each month throughout the academic year on college campuses across Oregon. The college students and their advisors also contact community volunteers, primarily Hispanic leaders in education, government, business, law and other fields, who donate their time at the Saturday sessions to teach and mentor the young Latino mentees. Upon graduation from their respective high schools, the high school mentees either go to college and join the college mentor class or, if they are still in high school, are encouraged to engage in mentoring opportunities with middle school students. Two OLI middle school programs, in Portland and Bend, have successfully extended the mentoring pipeline to younger students.

The goal of OLI is to provide culturally appropriate opportunities for Latino students to develop leadership skills, explore career options, gain access to institutions of higher education and become positive role models in their communities.

Potential mentors interested in participating in the Oregon Leadership Institute should either be of Hispanic/Latino heritage, or have an interest and empathy for working with Latino high school students. Mentors may be traditional college students, paraprofessionals, new English speakers, or college graduates who want to participate in the program and believe that they can learn and give back to the community by joining the mentor classes. Bi-lingual, bi-cultural mentors and volunteer presenters are especially valuable to the program.