Feature Stories

An in-depth look at key programs and issues that matter

Inspiring Community-Conscious Young Latino Leaders

 Smithsonian Institution's Young Ambassador views museum display behind glass
The Young Ambassadors Program encourages youth to explore and understand Latino identity and embrace their own cultural heritage through visits to the Smithsonian’s Latino collections and one-on-one interaction with Smithsonian experts, artists, journalists, scientists and other museum professionals.


Young Ambassadors Program provides life-changing experiences for Hispanic high school seniors for more than 10 years

Learning is a lifelong process that takes place beyond the classroom. Doing real, hands-on work while connecting with professionals in their fields is an invaluable experience for students. And providing opportunities for young leaders to give back as they advance in their careers creates a strong cycle in producing the next generation of leaders.

That's why for more than a decade, Ford Motor Company Fund has collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution's Young Ambassadors (YAP) program to support Hispanic youth in their educational and career-related goals. YAP helps high school seniors become the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts, sciences and humanities.

Since the program began in 2007, more than 280 promising Hispanic students have received internships, ongoing education and networking opportunities, as well as valuable skills such as resume building. By preparing these students for success, we also empower them to, in turn, help others – supporting a key goal of YAP, which is to help them become community-conscious leaders.

Students in this program spend a week in Washington, D.C., for a behind-the-scenes look at the Smithsonian. This time includes workshops with preeminent Latino scholars and provides opportunities to get to know professionals and leaders in their chosen career fields. After their week in Washington, participants complete a four-week internship at a Smithsonian partner or affiliate cultural or science museum in one of 17 cities across the U.S., including Puerto Rico.

"I came to the United States as a Cuban refugee when I was twelve years old, and I was the first in my family to go to college," Jessica Valdes Garcia, 2004 alumnus and a political science graduate from the University of Florida who is currently working as a staffer in Congress, said. "When I started to learn English in sixth grade, I was in a Civics ESOL class where I was learning English and Civics at the same time. I fell in love with the history of the U.S. and with its system of government. Ever since then, I dreamt of visiting Washington, D.C., and YAP was my opportunity to make this dream a reality. I can trace my time in YAP as the beginning of my leadership journey. The real-world experiences, lessons learned and people I met all helped shape me into the leader and person that I am today." Educators in the United States use "ESOL" in reference to "English for Speakers of Other Language" academic programs.

Smithsonian Institution's Young Ambassadors view table display of brochures with expert
High-school seniors representing 10 states and Puerto Rico participated in the Young Ambassadors Program in 2019. They attended workshops, visited various Smithsonian units and museums, and participated in conversations with filmmaker Alberto Ferreras, engineer Orlando Figueroa and artist Carmen Lomas Garza.


"YAP is more than a network," Adrián Aldaba, 2008 alumnus and program coordinator for the Smithsonian Latino Center, said, regarding the program's impact on his own personal and professional growth. "The bonds these students share form a lifelong intensity. As Young Ambassadors, we view ourselves as a family and even dubbed ourselves as 'nuestra familia,' Spanish for our family, a connection that's held strong over the years."

This opportunity also provides students with a $2,000 stipend toward college-related expenses, valuable work experience and insights into what they can do to improve their communities.

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