Now in its 17th year, the annual Wyoming Latina Youth Conference began as a governor’s initiative to encourage, support and empower young Latina girls and women to graduate from high school. Laramie will host the annual event this weekend at the Hilton Garden Inn and on the University of Wyoming campus.

Cecilia Aragon, UW Latina/o Studies Program director, said the initiative was also created to address a troubling suicide and pregnancy among Latina youth across the state.

Aragon says the mission of the conference when it began was to combat these issues.

“The Wyoming Latina Youth Conference mission back then was to empower them to make good choices in their life and the conference would offer them skills,” Aragon said. “A skill set that would help them to graduate from high school and also help them deal with difficult life situations.”

Aragon said the conference has grown significantly from when it first began and now hosts Latina youth from fifth to 12th grade from across the state.

“The attendance at the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference in 2000 started with only 10 girls,” Aragon said. “Seventeen years later, we have as many as 225 participants”

Aragon said she is seeing progress across the state and that according to statistics, Latinas and Latinos high school dropout rates are falling.

“We now have the statistics of high school dropouts, and Latinas and Latinos are no longer at the very top of the statistic,” Aragon said.

With that in mind, Aragon said the conference updated its goals. While still trying to teach useful skill sets and keep Latina youth in school, the new goal is to provide a clear path to higher education.

“Our goal now, to bring it up to speed to 2017, is to give young girls the skills to deal with difficult situations but also to create an educational pipeline into Wyoming’s community colleges and to the University of Wyoming to obtain a higher degree,” Aragon said.

At this year’s conference, “Embracing Leadership, Science and Creativity,” Latina youth will be able to take part in a variety of workshops discussing healthy relationships and identity, leadership, robotics, geography, 3-D design and computer programming and coding over the course of two days. Participants will also take a tour of the UW Art Museum and will learn about the UW admission process.

A keynote speaker, Linda Alvarado, is planned for the Friday night banquet. Alvarado is president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, Inc., a large contracting firm in Denver. She has been nominated as one of the most influential Hispanics in the country and continuously supports women’s professional development.

The conference will take place this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14. The banquet on Friday is open to the public for $45 per person and reservations can be made at wlyc.mail@gmail.com. Aragon said the proceeds from public admissions cover registration fees for students who were not able to pay. The last day of registration is today, Oct 12.

“What we are doing has already gained national recognition. In the state of Wyoming, this is brand new to us and people are looking to us to see how we are doing this,” Aragon said. “We’re ahead of the game here with other states in our region.”