News Column

Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas, Slice of Life column

July 8, 2014

By Travis M. Whitehead, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

July 08--Erica Gonzalez learned a lot during her trip to Washington D.C.

Now she's applying what she learned at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen.

Gonzalez, 18, graduated this year from Harlingen High School South, but she's already going places. She is one of 22 high school graduates accepted to the Smithsonian Latino Center's Young Ambassadors Program.

She spent a week in late June meeting some of the most fascinating people she'd ever encountered. One of those included Alberto Ferraras, director of the HBO Latino series Celebrity Habla. She also met Mirta Ojito, author of "Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town." The book is the true story of an Ecuadorean immigrant who was murdered in Long Island.

Being accepted into the Young Ambassadors Program was not an easy task. She needed a 3.3 grade point average, and two letters of recommendation from two English teachers.

She also had to submit a lengthy application and write two essays. One of them was a basic biography; the other one detailed her career plans.

The daughter of Michael and Laura Gonzalez, she wrote of her plan to study biology with the eventual goal of becoming a dentist. She said she would like to provide dental services to underprivileged children in the Rio Grande Valley.

When she arrived in Washington on June 23, she found herself in the company of people from California, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as five others from Texas, including two others from the Valley.

"We went to a bunch of the different museums so that was really amazing," she said. "The purpose of the program is really to develop the leadership skills of each young ambassador that comes out."

She and the other participants also had to put together a fictitious festival that the Smithsonian would hold. They split up into a marketing group, a programming group, a budget group and a media group. She was in the marketing group.

"It was pretty realistic," she said. "They had to think about security, where it would take place, when it would take place, and so that was really neat."

All these activities were geared toward preparing her and the other participants for their four-week paid internship at a museum or cultural center. Each internship requires students to work with a local library on a literacy building project. Erica is doing that now at IMAS.

"Basically we're just seeing the inner workings of a museum, how it all works," she said. "You can help with whatever you're going to end up majoring in, and since the Young Ambassadors Program is specifically for children going into the arts, science or humanities areas, there's something at a museum for you to get with."

She and the other participants will receive $2,000 for college. Erica plans to attend the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg on an athletic scholarship. She'll be playing soccer for the school.

Submit Slice of Life suggestions to Metro Editor Charlene Vandini at 430-6244 or or Ed Asher 956-430-6290


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Source: Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX)

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