SANTA CRUZ — At age 16, Gema Ramos has her sights set on becoming a heart surgeon.
The Harbor High junior attended the third annual Latino Role Models Conference on Saturday to find inspiration for achieving her goals -- hearing firsthand from successful lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, architects and other professional Latinos who have overcome an assortment of obstacles and prejudices to reach their dreams.
"A lot of their stories include hardships, and they say if you want to do it, you can do it," said Ramos, whose parents are from El Salvador. "There's no border stopping you."
The conference at Harbor High drew an estimated 400 students in fourth through 12th grades from across Santa Cruz County to attend workshops aimed at motivating them to stay in school and continue on to college.
"We are trying to help our students focus on good role models in the community and motivate them to do good in school," said organizer Fe Silva Robles, who works at Branciforte Middle School as a liaison between Spanish-speaking parents and teachers and administrators. "If we focus on education, we won't have the problems we are facing in our community with gangs."
Paulina Torres, 12, isn't sure what she wants to be when she grows up.
The middle school student, who was born in Mexico City, has plenty of time to toss around different ideas, but her parents want to make sure Torres' future includes college.
She said Saturday's
"My parents really want me to go to college and they thought this might help me figure out what I want to do," Torres said. "I'm interested in health."
Lindsey Robles, 13, is already thinking about a career as a lawyer or doctor.
She said the personal stories shared at the conference speakers have been inspirational for her own goals.
"It's great information, what to avoid and what to make better," she said. "I like hearing that you should pick something for a career that you would like a lot with pay or without pay."
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