S.A.L.S.A. member receives Hispanic leadership scholarship

Submitted Photo.

Submitted Photo.

Kelsey Leyva

Passionate, driven and hardworking are three characteristics that describe Zulema Uscanga, junior public health major. She is the public relations chair for the Spanish and Latino Student Association, a resident assistant at Koonce Hall and worked as an intern at Erie Insurance last summer. These activities and her leadership roles helped her become the first Kent State recipient of the Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. Scholarship for Young Hispanic Leaders.

Uscanga traveled to Chicago, Ill., with seven other members of S.A.L.S.A. to the four-day United States Hispanic Leadership Institute Conference on Feb. 14. At the conference, Uscanga and 19 other recipients of the scholarship were recognized for their accomplishments during a presentation and given a trophy. This scholarship not only awarded her $1,000, but also paid for her registration, flight to Chicago, hotel room and meals for the entire weekend.

Kimberly Kennedy, special assistant for diversity, equity and inclusion and co-advisor for S.A.L.S.A., accompanied Uscanga and the group of students to the conference. Kennedy said that this is the second year S.A.L.S.A. attended the conference and sees it as an excellent networking opportunity with genuine presenters.

“The speakers there are not actually paid to be there,” Kennedy said. “They just really want to get their word out and get the students knowing that they don’t have to do this alone and that even though they have a lot of struggles and adversity in their life, there are so many other people going through it or have been through it.”

Kennedy said that she also finds Uscanga’s position as public relations chair, which includes recruiting new members and training them for membership, fitting.

“I think her experience and her enthusiasm since winning this scholarship is reflecting on a lot of the events that S.A.L.S.A. has coming up and getting everybody involved and excited as she is,” she said. “She’s very impactful with her presence here on campus with the students.”

Uscanga, 20, attended the conference for two years and found the presenters at the conference to be inspirational.

“They’ve struggled, they’ve gone from nothing, and then all of a sudden they have these huge titles, but they remember to be humble and give back to the community,” Uscanga said. “It’s like the celebration of those struggles and reminding you that they shouldn’t hold you back, they should push you forward and motivate you.”

Jinre Holman, sophomore pre-accounting major and president of S.A.L.S.A., also attended the conference and works closely with Uscanga.

“[Uscanga] is awesome,” Holman said. “She is a great speaker, she’s very fluent, she knows how to talk to people and get them involved, network, she just has all of that wrapped in to one big [Uscanga] package.”

Yvette Mendoza, administrative secretary for the Center for Student Involvement and co-advisor of S.A.L.S.A., was unable to attend the conference, but wrote Uscanga a letter of reference for the scholarship.

“She is very passionate about the community, the Latino community, and I think she really wants to be heard,” Mendoza said. “I feel like she has leadership abilities and I think that they get stronger with every opportunity that she has.”

One such opportunity to strengthen her leadership abilities arose at her summer internship at Erie Insurance. Each intern was given the task of creating a presentation on a non-profit organization and the winning organization would receive $10,000. Uscanga won and $10,000 was awarded to the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute on behalf of the insurance company.

Sandra Dorsey, vice president and branch manager for Erie Insurance, hired Uscanga, wrote her a letter of reference for the scholarship and supports her in her endeavors to make a positive impact on the Latino community.

“It takes some young adults time to embrace their culture, many never do,” Dorsey said. “[Uscanga] is very proud of her heritage and celebrates diversity. She is an exceptional role model to all young women, particularly our Hispanic youth. I was honored to have her on my team.”

Justin Khol, residence hall director for Koonce Hall, is also glad to have Uscanga on his team of residence assistants.

“[Uscanga] is an incredible leader who has shown an immense amount of growth since I have come to know her,” Khol said. “[Uscanga] constantly looks to see challenges, not as stumbling blocks, but as opportunities for growth and success in areas outside of her comfort zone.”

After graduation, Uscanga hopes to attend graduate school to earn a Ph. D. specializing in maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health. She also wants to become more involved with USHLI to share her experience with others and help motivate other Latinos.

“It’s always nice to like give back to the community,” Uscanga said. “It’s nice to know someone who’s been through the struggle and has made it so far and is willing to mentor you and help you out.”

Kelsey Leyva is the diversity reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact Kelsey Leyva at [email protected].