Young migrant student public speaking.

Third Space Gives Migrant Students a Leading Edge

Los Angeles- “A Que Venimos?” asked Third Space Youth Institute Director Victor Cruz Jr. to a room full of Latinx high school students. “ A Triunfar!” cheered the students in reply as they began their second day at Annenberg’s Third Space Youth Institute. 

As the sound of music filled the dorms, this morning’s mantra-which translates to “What are we here for? To Triumph!”- was repeated every morning as students prepared for another long day of learning. 

From June 10-June 13, the USC Annenberg Center for Third Space Thinking welcomed a motivated group of 59 migrant high school students to the inaugural Third Space Youth Institute (TSYI). The Center partnered with the Los Angeles County Office of Education and Riverside County Office of Education to create a free, four-day residential program on the USC campus for the children of migrant workers.  The program introduced students to the power of soft skills while educating them on how to improve their personal brand, strengthen their public speaking skills and expand their knowledge of career opportunities.

Under the leadership of Shellee Smith, the Executive Director of the Center for Third Space Thinking and Jaime Carias, a Third Space fellow, students learned how to leverage critical soft skills for personal and professional success. 

“Our program equips students with the essential soft skills needed to embrace new ideas, leverage diversity, build self-confidence and visualize success, said Smith. “We’re excited about educating migrant students and giving them a leading edge in their future endeavors.”

During the program, students were introduced to the Third Space “ACE-IT” methodology which they can use to frame and solve problems.  ACE-IT stands for: 


Cultural Competency 


Intellectual Curiosity 

360 Degree Thinking

Many students noted the fundamentals of the ACE-IT methodology as a key takeaway of the four-day summer program.   They agreed that by using these essential soft skills, they feel more empowered to speak their minds, embrace diversity and strive for excellence.

“I am definitely most excited about implementing ACE-IT in my daily life,” said Lizbeth Luevano a student at La Quinta High School. 

High school is a time of excitement as students explore various educational and career paths and venture to new beginnings- professional or collegiate. Unfortunately, for those who wish to attend university, it presents a daunting challenge for high school students who do not receive the proper tools and advice on how to apply to colleges. At the TSYI, however, students were broken into small groups where they were able to ask specific questions on the college application process from USC college advisors. 

“For my children, I want them to know that in the real world, you can work hard, but to become successful…you need education,” said Omar Bahena, a rising junior at Desert Hot Springs High School.  He expressed that the collegiate mentorship program was pivotal to his experience at the TSYI. “Being able to ask someone to mentor you is very crucial as a youth, and I know with the skills I have learned here, I will go very, very far.” 

Another significant aspect of the TSYI was when participants engaged in conversations with international professionals from the World Bank during their third day at the Institute. This experience gave students the opportunity to network with business professionals and ask them questions about their experiences working with various cultures and how to utilize empathy and cultural competency in the workplace. 

 “I feel like that was the highlight in this camp experience,” said Denisse Tafolla, a rising senior at Arroyo High School. “ I was able to get advice, have people tell me what to do and what not to do and that’s something I did not expect out of this.” 

“As a first-generation college graduate and professional myself, I wish I could have had the opportunity these migrant students had via TSYI,” said Jaime Carias, a Third Space Thinking fellow. “We are confident that they left with a skill set that will not only allow them to thrive in school, but also in their personal and professional lives.”

By learning more about the potential their future holds, students left feeling empowered and excited to implement the soft skills they broadened at the TSYI.  

“I know these students will go back to their communities and they will make change,” said Myra Sanchez, Director of Migrant Education in Riverside County. “I look forward to continuing this collaboration and exposing more students to this type of learning.”