Photo: Manuela Salazar
Manuela Salazar is the Executive Director of the Latino Leadership Initiative at Marian University. Photo: Marian University

Latino Leadership Initiative at Marian University

Former Chief Communications Officer for the Security Advisor for the President, Manuela Salazar, is leading the Latino initiative at Marian University.


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Manuela Salazar is the Executive Director of the Latino Leadership Initiative at Marian University in Indianapolis, whose mission is to transform Marian University into the best option for Latino students to become transformational leaders through an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment.  

According to the U.S. Census, by July 2021, the city of Indianapolis had a total of 10.8% Latino population. While 57.7% were white.

AL DÍA spoke with Salazar about the Latino Leadership Initiative and how her background in journalism influenced her passion for community outreach. 

Meet Manuela Salazar

The Colombian and former journalist acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Social Communication from the University of Manizales in Colombia. She also holds a Master’s in Leadership Development from Saint Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. Her passion for community engagement continued in the United States, becoming the Director of Community Outreach at the Girl Scouts of Central Indiana, where she managed the Latino department. 

She previously served as Chief Communications Officer for the Security Advisor for the President and was the digital editor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombia—citing language barrier as the main reason for pivoting because in “journalism and communications, you pretty much need to have perfect English, and that was not my case at the time, or now,” explained Salazar, who adds she found her passion “working with the Latino community and exploring that area. It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction working with college students.” 

Although Manuela admits to missing journalism, sharing the process of assimilation was hard, and “starting the process of building your network takes time and effort—this for sure is a big change in life.”

Latino Leadership Initiative

The initiative is part of the university's admissions program and assists the Latino population. The program has two sub-programs: Latino Mentoring Program and Familias Unidas— The Latino Mentoring program allows current Latino students to serve as mentors in high schools and surrounding communities. The program intends to become a recruitment strategy, shares Manuela, who says the program motivates students to pursue higher education, even if they do not attend Marian University. 

Photo: Courtesy

Therefore, the program tries to cater to students as early as middle school to start the application process for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program, “an early-college promise program designed to make college more affordable for students,” as mentioned by Learn More Indiana. Manuela commented there would not be immediate results but wants students to realize college is a possibility. 

Another component of Marian’s Latino Leadership Initiative is Familias Unidas, which provides Spanish-speaking families access to workshops to improve their understanding of the education system in the U.S. This program was started during the pandemic and presented many challenges with virtual workshops—poor attendance and partnering with different school systems. 

Photo: Courtesy

Although Manuela shares, “It was not what we expected, so we paused [the program].” But it will restart next month—holding its first in-person meeting with parents. 

Photo: Courtesy

The university also prides itself in supporting DACA students through partnerships with different organizations that provide scholarships to these students, including the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF). 

Marian University’s President Daniel J. Elsener praised Manuela’s work last year, sharing:

“It is terrifically encouraging to have a person of your talents and commitment leading Marian's Latino initiative,” said Elsener. “We are privileged to be your colleagues in this commitment to guiding young people on to the path towards a good life and unbounded success. Your leadership is making a dramatic difference in Marian’s unflagging commitment to the students you are attracting, the Latino community, and the common good.”

Her advice for parents

  • Ask questions. Do not feel bad for not speaking the language or are unsure what to ask.
  • If the school does not have a bilingual staff member, try to find others to connect with that can address your concerns.
  • Attend college tours with your child even if you do not understand what they are saying, demand a Spanish interpreter during a college visit.
  •  Understanding there are a plethora of careers to choose from aside from healthcare and law—do allow your child to explore a particular interest: computer science (if interested in video games), art, creative writing, etc. 

“Just open your mind, listen to them, and be present,” Manuela concluded.



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