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1,700 Latino youth visited the U for the annual Latinos in Action conference, participating in cultural dances, performances, workshops and receiving thousands of dollars worth of scholarships.

By Annalisa Purser

The University of Utah hosted nearly 2,000 Latino youth Friday, March 27, for the annual Latinos in Action conference, where they participated in cultural dances and performances, attended workshops ranging from how to professionally interview to learning about the video gaming industry, received thousands of dollars worth of scholarships and heard from the marketing and sales executive for PepsiCo Inc. North America.

Latinos in Action is a Utah-based nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the educational gap in the Latino community through leadership classes taught at middle and high schools and by facilitating cultural, leadership, service and educational experiences.

Latinos-in-Action-2“Our office is dedicated to connecting the community with promises of higher education by helping young people imagine a bright future for themselves, prepare for success and experience achievement,” said Sandi Pershing, assistant vice president of the U’s Office of Engagement. “We are delighted to open our campus to these students so they can see first-hand the excitement and learning that goes on at a college campus and perhaps see themselves at the U.”

The conference theme, “Professional Me,” focused on the importance of professionalism in all aspects of academic and career life. The keynote speaker, Richard Montañez, director of multicultural sales and community promotions across PepsiCo’s North American divisions, discussed his personal story of perseverance and professionalism — encouraging youth to follow their hearts and take chances in life.

Montañez started his PepsiCo career at Frito-Lay in 1976 as a janitor and today is recognized for creating the Flamin’ Hot line of products, including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which influenced future ethnic products and the first Hispanic marketing team for Frito-Lay. He was also influential in developing Hispanic products and marketing promotions for KFC and Taco Bell. Hispanic Lifestyle magazine recognized Montañez as one of the most influential Hispanics in corporate America.

The U’s student chapter of Latinos in Action was heavily involved in planning the daylong conference. Starting in November 2014, the team met weekly in order to secure space, invited faculty and staff to present, gathered more than 100 volunteers and created a video that was shown to the students before the keynote.

“Latinos in Action provided me with the tools to succeed in high school and now as a first-generation college student,” said Victor de Lara, assistant vice president of the U’s student Latinos in Action chapter. “I enjoyed having the next generation of Latinos in Action students on campus because I have been in their shoes and it was exciting to show them the future that awaits.”


Annalisa Purser is a communication specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at