Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Syracuse High students Jazmin Osorio, left, and Jeanette Bravo joined about 500 Latino students from schools along the Wasatch Front who attended the 13th annual Chicana/o, Latina/o High School Conference at the University of Utah.

The high school students at the table want to study medicine, law, business and architecture.

And they're learning how to add activism and leadership to their education. At a seminar Tuesday on "MEChA: 101," these college-bound Latinos expressed frustration at being called "illegal" and "alien."

"All of us are immigrants here," said Anarosa Hermenegildo, 16, a Cottonwood High School student who wants to become a registered nurse. "You don't hear in the news about Japanese immigrants or European immigrants. It's just us."

The seminar was part of the 13th annual Chicana/o, Latina/o High School Conference at the University of Utah. The event was hosted by Movimento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, a Latino student social-justice group.

Organizers say such events are needed to get Utah's Latino youth focused on college. Karla Motta, academic adviser at the U., said the state's Latino population is booming, yet access to college isn't.

The number of Latino students is up statewide this academic year, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. Still, only about 5 percent of the 119,253 students enrolled systemwide are Latino.

"We hope to promote students' identity and encourage them to pursue college," said Valery Pozo, 20, a MEChA member who is majoring in history education. Pozo said she attended the same seminar while a student at East High School. Pozo said she was among a handful of non-white students taking advanced placement and honor courses.

"I found it very encouraging," she said, "to know there are students who look like me at the U. ... facing similar obstacles."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com