Montana Tech Upward Bound Student Headed to Thailand

Montana Tech TRIO student Ciarra Apodaca has been selected to take part in a highly selective youth leadership program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Apodaca was one of twenty students and two educators from across Montana selected for an all-expense paid program to Thailand through the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at the University of Montana.

Apodaca is a sophomore at Capital High School and the current Upward Bound president. The American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP) for Thailand, funded by the U.S. Department of State, offers a six-month study on food security issues, climate change, leadership development and community service and culminates in a month-long exchange program to Thailand in July 2016.

This is the fourth year the Mansfield Center has received a grant to implement AYLP. Emphasizing U.S.-Asia relations, the first two years of the study took Montanans to Cambodia, while the Thailand program began in the third year.

Because of the Mansfield Center’s success in managing international exchanges, Montana is one of only six areas in the country where students are eligible to apply for AYLP. Most AYLP programs draw from major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Houston.

A key objective of AYLP is to provide international engagement opportunities to underserved populations. AYLP funding covers travel for 20 high school students who want to be immersed in another culture and learn about the global issues facing both Thailand and Montana. Upon returning home, students put their new knowledge and skills into action by spearheading a service project in their communities.

“I have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm very grateful I was chosen,” said Ciarra Apodaca. “Without Upward Bound, I would not have been motivated to even apply for the program, let alone know about it! Without the help from the Upward Bound coordinators, I would not be the person I am today. They have been my backbone, my support and cheerleaders when I didn't have any. I'm so thankful for my Upward Bound family for motivating me to do the best I can. I have been given the opportunity to explore various areas of education and many programs through Upward Bound specifically the AYLP program. I have always been interested in the well-being of others and the necessities of life such as food and climate change. After going through the rigorous application program, nothing excites me more than being able to pursue my ambitions! I also can't wait to eat the food!”

The grant also pays expenses for two educators to participate. Those with youth experience in an educational setting are encouraged to apply. While emphasis is on international affairs, food security and climate change, the program seeks educators with the mindset to engage in a challenging experience, regardless of their expertise.

In Thailand, the group will explore the diversity of the country, including the bustling capital city of Bangkok, the southern beaches of the Malay Peninsula, and the diverse hill tribe region in the north. Participants will compare the global issues affecting both Montana and Thailand. Cultural exchange is interwoven throughout the program, as participants will stay with Thai host families for full-immersion into local society. Students also are partnered with Thai high school peers in each of the three locations.

“Ciarra is an impressive young woman who is always looking for a new challenge,” stated Cory Chenoweth, TRIO Coordinator - Helena. “Like all TRIO Upward Bound students, Ciarra comes from a low income household and will be the first in her family to pursue a Bachelor’s degree. As a high school sophomore, Ciarra has the unique ability to see the world from a global perspective and is committed to being a global of the world. The AYLP will afford Ciarra the opportunity to grow as a student and leader. Ciarra will be a wonderful ambassador for the state of Montana.”

AYLP is designed to advance mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and of other countries, spark an interest in learning about foreign cultures and prepare youth leaders to become responsible citizens by developing a generation of Americans who are able to advance international dialogue and compete effectively in the global economy.

The Mansfield Center promotes better understanding of Asia and relations with the U.S., as well as ethics and public affairs in the spirit of longtime U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield and his wife, Maureen.