Two Highlands’ Students Receive Scholarships to Attend National Leadership Conference
Two outstanding New Mexico Highlands University students will attend the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders, thanks to scholarships from the American Association of University Women New Mexico.
Yolie Elias and Crystal Montoya will participate in the leadership conference at the University of Maryland, College Park, June 3 — 5. They are the only two students in the state that AAUW New Mexico selected to receive the scholarship.
The American Association of University Women sponsors the conference, now in its 25th year.
Elias, 21, graduates May 8 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in women’s studies. She will begin her graduate studies at Highlands University this fall in public affairs.
Montoya, 20, is a junior majoring in sociology, with a minor in Native American and Hispano studies.
Elias and Montoya are both stellar students, earning 3.67 and 3.75 GPAs respectively. But it’s not just their academic excellence that makes them stand out.
“Yolie and Crystal both have quiet strength, and extraordinary passion for enhancing the well being of women,” said sociology professor Erika Derkas. “Yolie developed the Web site for our new women’s center at Highlands, and Crystal is the editor-in-chief of the center’s newsletter. They’ve been instrumental in helping organize women’s center events.
“Yolie and Crystal are also very involved in preserving their cultural heritage, which is an integral part of who they are,” Derkas said.
“These young women have unlimited potential, and we are so pleased to give them the opportunity to attend this national leadership conference,” said Karyl Lyne, vice president for the Las Vegas AAUW branch. “We’re also honored they will represent us.”
Both students are grateful to the AAUW for giving them the chance to attend the leadership conference.
“It will be inspirational to be with prestigious, successful professional women and other students, and learn about leadership from them,” Elias said.
“I hope we can represent Highlands well, and bring back what we learn to make a difference on campus,” Montoya said.
Elias grew up in El Paso and said she is a first-generation American, and the first in her family to graduate from college. She transferred from UTEP to Highlands University on a soccer scholarship.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college, ever since first grade, and I took every AP class I could in high school,” Elias said. “My parents were born in Juarez , Mexico, in extreme poverty. It makes me really appreciate that I had the opportunity to get an education. I’m so grateful.”
Montoya took a different path to Highlands. She started taking the university’s dual enrollment classes when she was a junior at nearby Mora High School. By the time she graduated and enrolled at Highlands, she had enough college credits to be a sophomore.
“Erika Derkas taught a dual enrollment class in sociology at my high school and it inspired me to study sociology at Highlands,” Montoya said. “My mom went to Highlands too, and got her bachelor’s and master’s in social work. I remember my mom writing her master’s thesis with me sitting on her lap.”
Elias and Montoya talked about the important role Derkas and history professor Kristie Ross have played in their college success.
“They’re not just professors, they’re our mentors,” Elias said.
Montoya added, “Both of them have so much confidence in us. It’s great to have their support.”