Notre Dame’s Latino Studies Scholars Program graduates first cohort of merit scholars, sending six transformative leaders into the world

Author: Institute for Latino Studies

Lssp Graduation 2021
Pictured left to right: Aaron, Stacy, Jisel, Dr. Fraga, Kelly, Alejandra & Diego 

They came to Notre Dame from across the United States, and as the six members of the Latino Studies Scholars Program’s inaugural cohort walk across the Commencement stage this weekend, they’re prepared to go out into the world and support and empower Latino communities.

Launched in 2016 by the Institute for Latino Studies, the merit-based scholarship and academic program — the first and only of its kind at an American university — strives to prepare transformative leaders who have the passion and leadership potential to expand the common good. The program has grown rapidly, with 18 LSSPs on campus this year, and nine more committed to Notre Dame for this fall. ILS aims to offer 16 new scholarships per year by 2024.

The six members of the LSSP Class of 2021 reflect a broad range of academic interests, each bringing a unique perspective through which to tackle issues faced by Latinos across the country:

  • Aaron Benavides, a political science major with minors in theology, digital marketing, and journalism, ethics, and democracy from Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Jisel Gomez, a neuroscience and behavior and Latino studies major from Mundelein, Illinois
  • Kelly Liang, an accounting and political science major from Miami, Florida
  • Stacy Manrique, a Reilly dual-degree student majoring in computer science and film, television, and theatre with a minor in Latino studies from McAllen, Texas
  • Alejandra Osorio, a science preprofessional major from Santa Ana, California
  • Diego Reynoso, an economics and political science major from Elkhart, Indiana

Luis Ricardo Fraga, ILS director and the Rev. Donald P. McNeill C.S.C. Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership and Joseph Robbie Professor of Political Science, and Timothy Matovina, then-co-director of ILS who now chairs the Department of Theology, worked together to create the program. They envisioned it as a means of preparing the next generation of leaders at a time when Latinos had become the fastest growing and youngest population in the U.S. and the Catholic Church. 

“The intention of the program is to offer mentorship and opportunities in leadership development and service within Latinx communities,” Fraga said. “The scholarships we offer alleviate the burden of tuition on families, and gives them the freedom to explore any and all topics they want to delve deeply into during their time at Notre Dame. Now, with the graduation of this inaugural class, the University establishes itself as the only one in the country that develops and rewards leaders with expertise in Latinx communities.”

Over the past year, members of this inaugural class were given an immediate opportunity to demonstrate their leadership, serving as one-on-one mentors to first-year LSSPs, a practice that will continue going forward.

“This scholarship is a launchpad to aim higher in your future endeavors,” said ILS associate director Paloma Garcia-Lopez. “Through education, research and internship support, mentorship, programming, and more, ILS provides a foundation for these students during their four years at Notre Dame to ensure they become transformative leaders who take into account how their decisions impact all Americans.”

More on the LSSP Class of 2021:

Aaron Benavides made the most of his time on campus in a multitude of leadership roles, and received the Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., Leadership Award this spring. It recognizes a graduating senior who demonstrates “significant effort to advance the Catholic character of the University.” As a junior, he interned for The Catholic Herald, a London-based Catholic weekly magazine. He spent a summer at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., an opportunity made possible by ILS’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Program (CCLP). After graduation, Aaron will intern with GMMB, a political consulting firm and PR/ad agency in Washington, D.C.

Jisel Gomez spent her summers completing an internship at Clinica Monseñor Romero in Los Angeles through CCLP and being selected as a Rush Alzheimer's clinic health educator, serving the Hispanic population in Chicago just 45 minutes from home. She will join the Alliance for Catholic Education as a science and math teacher in Dallas, Texas, before pursuing medical school. Jisel is the first in her extended family to graduate from college and will be celebrating her younger sister’s high school graduation this weekend as well.

Kelly Liang will follow in the footsteps of her mother, an accountant, and her grandmother, a small business owner, by pursuing a career in finance. She volunteered extensively with La Casa de Amistad by tutoring youth after school and served as an event intern at ILS her senior year. In June, she will be working in Chicago with KPMG in their tax practice. She hopes to eventually attend law school to study immigration law to defend refugee and temporary protective status families seeking asylum in the United States due to the effects of climate change, war, and globalization in their home countries. 

Stacy Manrique, a student in the five-year Reilly dual-degree program, will walk at commencement this weekend but spend one more year on campus completing her computer science studies. She served as stage manager for an FTT production and completed an internship at UnidosUS in Washington, D.C., through the CCLP. Last summer, she completed an internship at a federal government agency and will do so again this summer. Over winter session, she served as a research apprentice for ILS Faculty Fellow Anne Garcia-Romero, studying Latinx stories. Stacy looks forward to merging her interests in the creative arts and film industry to her programming expertise. 

Alejandra Osorio is headed to the University of California, Irvine Medical School’s PRIME-LC Academy, geared towards future physician-leaders who will focus their service on transforming health outcomes for Latinx populations. To prepare for her career leading public health projects, she will conduct a cancer awareness program in Puebla, Mexico, and assume a full-time research assistant position at the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture before applying to medical school in 2022.

Diego Reynoso, among many other accomplishments, completed an internship designing youth entrepreneurship projects in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of CCLP. After graduation, he will spend two years with the Alliance for Catholic Education, teaching at a middle school in Denver, Colorado. He then plans to attend law school,  where he will focus on criminal justice reform to defend young men of color facing an uphill battle in the nation’s justice system. He also aspires to run for local political office at some point in his career.

LSSP 2021 Graduates Huddle