College “Fly In” Program Part 1: Caminos al Futuro at George Washington University

In this two-part series, we speak with El Rancho High School students who were selected to participate in college “Fly In” programs this past summer.

College “Fly In” programs are designed to provide qualifying students a chance to experience college life, often out of state. Many “Fly In” programs are offered at no cost, and include travel expenses, room and board, and enrollment into a leadership or diversity program.

This month we spoke to Daniel Castañeda, a senior ERHS student, to learn about his experience with the Caminos al Futuro, a fully-funded “Fly In” summer program at George Washington (GW) University. This program that is part of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute sponsored by GW alumnus Gilbert Cisneros and his wife, Jacki Cisneros, founder of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera.

Tell us about the program.
The Caminos al Futuro Program at George Washington University is a leadership program that connects students with successful Latinos, such as Representative Ruben Kihuen. We learned about the Latin X Community, the types of challenges we face as Latinos, and participated in college preparation workshops and opportunities to improve our writing skills.

Tell us about the application process?
I worked with Michelle Sandoval, the program manager at Generation 1st Degree, to get the pieces of the application submitted. In addition to the application, you have to submit a letter of recommendation. Then there’s a selection process. It felt amazing to be accepted!

This program was 3 weeks long and far way from home in Washington, D.C. Tell us about your travel experience.
I was scared because this was not only my first time traveling alone but also my first time traveling out of state. I was afraid I wouldn’t get along with the other students, wouldn’t connect with anyone, or that there would be a tragic disaster. It was a long flight and when I arrived it took a long time for my luggage to arrive. Apparently, other students had already connected through an app, which I learned about later. Once I got to the Mt. Vernon campus and checked into my dorm, I felt liberated. I was fascinated by the whole idea of living on campus and experiencing it.

How did your parents feel about you traveling away?
My mom was scared and did not want me to do it. She thought I wouldn’t be able to handle another state without her. But I reassured her that I could find my way.

What were the top 3 takeaways from the experience?
The biggest takeaway was the college experience. It changed my goals . Before this experience I was only planning to apply to California schools, but now I want to apply for more out of state colleges.

The second takeaway would be the friendships I gained . I didn’t think that we would keep in touch once the program ended, but we still do.

The third takeaway was the leadership confidence I developed. I was much more introverted and didn’t really like to put myself out there, but now I use my voice and take advantage that I have a voice and an opinion.

What would you say to students who are not considering applying to out of state colleges?
I would tell them to get out of their comfort zone because there are endless possibilities. Staying close to home may feel nice and safe, but it’s not always good to feel comfortable. I would tell them to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience?
I learned that I could actually do it. I didn’t think I could go out alone, but I did it and now I want to go back.

If you could share one message with your fellow Dons about the program and the experience, what would it be?
Do not have a negative mindset of not being good enough. If you have a dream or goal to travel across the country to attend any school or Ivy League, you must be driven to pursue that dream. Do not allow money or negativity from preventing you from following your dreams!

In the next issue featuring Part 2, we will hear from ERHS senior Lara Roman and her experience with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Youth Leadership Institute.

Daniel’s College “Fly In” Discoveries
1. It changed my goals.
2. I gained new friendships.
3. I’ve developed leadership confidence.