Aquetza students on staircase at UMC at CU BoulderIn Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica/Aztec indigenous people of central and northern Mexico,“aquetza” translates as “to lift your chin up.” This was chosen with great intention, and embodies what the Aquetza summer program is all about: Empowering youth with strong ties to Chicana/o and Latina/o communities across Colorado to develop powerful connections between academics and community progress, begin to include a trajectory of higher education in their life plans, and to see themselves as scholars and community leaders.

Program Dates:

In 2024, Aquetza will operate a 2-week in-person program taking place both on campus and in communities around the state.

Friday, July 5th – Friday, July 19th, 2024

Other important dates and timelines include:

  • Applications for 2024 will open on February 2nd.

  • Application Deadline is May 5th.

  • Notification of Acceptance, Waitlist, or Encouraged to Apply next year: May 31, 2024

Program Background and Objectives:

The Aquetza: Youth Leadership, Education and Community Empowerment program aims to provide youth with strong ties to Colorado’s Chicana/o and Latina/o communities with a unique, trans-disciplinary educational and community leadership experience through a virtual summer program.

Aquetza endeavors to thoughtfully engage students in examining and exploring the intersections and connections across the disciplines of history, literature, health and environmental science, as well as offering students an opportunity to explore how to leverage their community assets and academic skills to become positive, influential, and inclusive civic leaders in their home communities and schools. By creating an experience that is at once socially positive, academically engaging, and grounded in community and culture, Aquetza will serve to encourage its student attendees to begin including higher education, specifically higher education at CU Boulder, in their life plans and academic trajectories, while preparing them to share this spirit of empowerment, agency, and education with people throughout their communities.

Our hope is for students to see the world as it is,
and imagine the world as it could be.

Who is Aquetza?

Aquetza is a joint project by UMAS y MEXA, members of Colorado's Chicana/o/x community, and the CU School of Education. Our staff includes distinguished faculty members in the Schools of Education and Ethnic Studies, doctoral and graduate students with extensive classroom and community organizing experience, and undergraduate student counselors from UMAS y MEXA de CU Boulder, and the CU School of Education. All of our staff have experience working with youth, have had extensive pedagogical and safety training, and will be providing both personal and academic guidance to youth attendees.

Staff members were selected for their history of work with youth and communities, their commitment to first generation and under-represented students, and their knowledge and expertise in our rigorous academic curricular topics, including literature, history, science, ethnic studies, and community organizing.

What Will We Do?

Aquetza will be an exciting experience where students will have the opportunity to see how the academic, the personal, the cultural, and the community can all exist together. Our instructors will:

  1. Approach academic content from a trans-disciplinary perspective, making connections across subjects areas, and building from the knowledge and skills that participants bring to the classroom.
  2. Take up the use of new-media tools, exploring how the everyday social practices of students (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, blogging) can become powerful tools for academic growth and civic action.
  3. Engage with theatrical and performance art, particularly the distinctly Chicana/o and Latina/o traditions of spoken word, teatro, testimonio, and muralism, as means to academic development and civic problem-solving.
  4. Employ a problem-posing pedagogy, which will allow youth participants to engage in all these tasks on their own terms, and in comfortable settings.

In addition to this curriculum, youth attendees with have ample opportunity to connect with staff and peers, enjoy life on CU Boulder’s campus, perform and share their work with community members, learn about the higher education application process, and develop into leaders ready to share their work with their home communities and schools.

Who Can Attend?

We are seeking 52 high school students who have strong ties to Chicana/o and Latina/o communities throughout Colorado as program participants. Eligible applicants are students in 9th through 11th grade during the 2023-24 school year who have shown potential or interest in leadership, creative expression and a deep concern for the social/educational issues prevalent in their home communities. We are targeting a group of students who represent a diverse range of ages, genders, academic levels, and geographic location throughout the state. Target regions include: the Denver/Aurora metro region, the North Metro region, Boulder Valley, Pueblo, Weld County and the Eastern Plains, the San Luis Valley and Alamosa, and the Western Slope.

Specifically, we hope to draw youth who: 

  1. do not usually have the geographic privilege of visiting a university campus
  2. who are in good academic standing but may not have been targeted by other collegiate recruitment efforts, or
  3. who are highly involved leaders invested in their local communities, but perhaps not in leadership roles within institutional, education contexts.

How Can Students Apply?

Applying for Aquetza involves providing basic contact information, answering a few short application questions, and providing contact information for one academic recommendation (no letter is required). Interested students are encouraged to Apply Now.

Alternatively, students may contact the program for a paper application. The deadline to apply for youth participants is May 5th. We encourage students to complete applications early to ensure we receive it in time.


Aquetza is designed to help youth from across Colorado bring their unique, diverse, and valuable perspectives and life experiences to CU Boulder, both during this summer program, and in the future when they pursue higher education.

Our primary goal is to provide a safe space where youth participants, undergraduate counselors, and instructional staff alike are given the opportunity to build relationships, deepen their academic knowledge and skills, learn about civic engagement, interrogate their cultural identities, explore their communities, and articulate a vision of themselves as scholars and civic leaders.

By drawing upon the historical,intellectual, and creative activism history of Colorado’s Chicana/o and Latina/o communities, as well as cutting edge skills in new-media and performance arts, Aquetza will produce youth who have a fundamentally new relationship to academics and schooling, and who are prepared to take up servant-leadership roles in their communities and the university for the collective good of their towns and cities, Colorado, and the nation.

At the end of the program, students will walk away from Aquetza prepared to produce valuable and powerful scholarly and intellectual knowledge, solve social and political problems, and understand how higher education can enhance their life trajectories – affirming our overarching
goal to educate and empower youth to become active participants and leaders in their communities, in their own lives, and in higher education at CU Boulder.