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W+H Students Gain Leadership Experience at NHI Programs

Rudy Brandl


In mid-July, a delegation of Wardlaw+Hartridge students participated in two National Hispanic Institute (NHI) leadership and community equity building programs: The Northeast Great Debate (NEGD) and The American Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session (AMLDZ). 

W+H NEGD students Nijiany Genao '26, Elyssa Ortega '26, Giannalise Rodriguez '26 and Mackias Ysaac '26 were joined by participants from the east coast, Colorado and Texas as well as the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama. The international NEGD participants included one of W+H's Cultura Maya Global Experience trip host siblings, Gabo Ramirez from Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico. W+H AMLDZ students Ancel De Jesus '25, Liany Maldonado '25 and Giselle Rodriguez '25 were joined by delegates from across the US, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA, hosted the NEGD, where participants competed in a debate tournament in which they developed their communication, collaboration and leadership skills within the categories of cross examination, extemporaneous speaking and oratory speeches. 

“Beyond the development of these important skills, participants of NHI programs focus on building and uplifting the Latinx community from within," said Ana De León, W+H Associate Director of Admission, NHI alumna, and NEGD On-Site Director. “Despite their young age, NHI participants are able to see themselves as assets to and leaders of their communities. It's truly inspiring to watch that mind shift take place with each passing day of the programs.”

Elyssa Ortega, who was awarded Most Improved member of her team, highlighted her experience: “I learned so much from everyone around me and was welcomed into a community of people who all began as strangers." 

Nijiany Genao, who earned First Place in Atheneum, added: “I loved the delegation so much! I learned so much about the Latin and Hispanic community.” 

Gabo Ramírez, who won first place in Extemporaneous Speaking, commented: “At first, I was very surprised because I didn’t know what NHI was about but when I arrived with my fellow participants and the staff, I knew I could count on them and from there we began practicing to become better versions of ourselves.”

Giannalise Rodriguez said, “NEGD was definitely a learning experience and it taught me so much about public speaking and what it means to be a leader.” Mackias Ysaac, who took second place in Cross Examination with his partner Pablo Mezquita-Media (DE), added, “NEGD was an amazing experience and very helpful not only in terms of learning about the Latino community, but also teaching me to have a voice.”

The AMLDZ, held at Saint Mary's College of Maryland in Saint Mary's City, MD, has delegates experience a mock legislative session in which leadership skills are further developed while continuing to focus on the Latino community through the lenses of community equity building and asset-based thinking. 

“I learned that I do have a voice in any situation. If I have the passion and drive for something, I can give it my all to achieve anything I want to show other people what talents I can bring to the table,” Giselle Rodriguez said. 

NEGD alumna and AMLDZer Liany Maldonado noted, “Both programs are different but unique in their own ways. What I enjoyed even more than the learning experience itself is the social experience. It was getting to meet all these wonderful intelligent people from all over the world.”

Ancel De Jesus, another NEGD alumna and AMLDZer who served as House of Representatives Finance and Economics Committee Chair noted, “As a Committee Chair for the House of Representatives, I learned so much more about community equity building and how it is important for us to create and provide enough resources and opportunities for our Latino community.”

For more information about these enriching and transformative opportunities, reach out to Steven Hernandez, NHI East Coast Project Administrator at or Ana De León, NHI East Coast Chief Operating Officer, at