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Once a wallflower, engineering student Ulises Trujillo Garcia blooms into a national leader

Studio portrait by Priscilla Grover

Boise State junior Ulises Trujillo Garcia has been chosen to attend the ¡Adelante! Leadership Institute, a highly selective program hosted by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities that brings together 500 students from across the nation for three days of intensive leadership and professional development training in Chicago.

For Garcia, the honor of being selected for the program is matched with a gratefulness for an education his family at times resisted, and a sense of awe with how much the once-reserved civil engineering student has blossomed while attending Boise State.

“I always wanted to go to college but I didn’t know how, and also my dad didn’t believe that I was capable of finishing high school or going to college,” Garcia explained. “Initially, I didn’t have his support – but he believes in me now.”

Born and raised in a small town two hours to the south of Mexico City called San Miguel Laderas, Garcia emigrated to Nyssa, Oregon, with his family when he was 15. He described his high school self as “the kid in the back” of class who “didn’t participate,” in part because he didn’t speak English. Despite his shyness and the language barrier, several of his high school teachers urged him to apply for college. He began taking college classes while working two jobs as a senior. A school counselor helped him apply for scholarships.

“It was the last week of my senior year, I got scholarships,” he said. “Then it became real.”

When he arrived on campus his freshman year – commuting from Nyssa, as he still does every day – Boise State’s College Assistance Migrant Program offered him guidance and support. The program aids students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers, or are the children of such workers, enrolled in their first year of undergraduate studies.

“They became my family. They literally held my hand my first year of college,” he said. “Because of them, I was able to get out of my comfort zone, break out of my shell.”

Since stepping foot on campus, the straight-A student has set and achieved many goals he once thought impossible: he’s studied abroad in Valencia, Spain. He’s joined – and become president of – the Organizacion de Estudiantes Latino-Americanos on campus. Each summer, he has worked as a mentor for the Oregon Migrant Leadership Institute, a month-long introduction to college for migrant high school students. Last spring, he even advocated for more Latino-focused undergraduate classes at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ Capitol Forum in Washington, D.C.

“I got inspired,” he said. “Even though I have faced a lot of challenges, there are others who’ve faced more than me.”

Garcia has been so inspired by his mentoring experiences that he now plans to apply for master’s programs in counseling once he graduates.

“I want to give back to those who need it and offer what I didn’t have as a high schooler – time and support,” he said.

Garcia is not waiting until grad school to get started on this important work. October 26-27, the Organizacion de Estudiantes Latino-Americanos is hosting Project: Dream for Tomorrow, an overnight program that will walk selected high school through processes like how to apply for financial aid and housing, and introduce them to campus life and valuable support systems like the College Assistance Migrant Program to “help them see that college is possible for them,” Garcia said.

For more information on Project: Dream for Tomorrow, visit: