Who am I? Where am I going? How will I get there?

Encuentros Leadership provides programs that tackle these core questions to help Latino boys in North County achieve their academic dreams.

The wakeup call for Roberto Rivas, founder and executive director of Encuentros Leadership, occurred 13 years ago  an Oceanside Unified School District meeting when he learned that 57 percent of North County’s Latino boys between the ages of 13 and 15 were dropping out of high school.

“The meeting got heated,” Rivas said. “People were upset, but it spurred a call to action.”

Rivas and about 50 other Latino men in North County began to meet to discuss solutions to the problem, which resulted in the founding of Encuentros Leadership, an organization of Latino professionals dedicated to increasing graduation rates for at-risk Latino boys.

STEM Education and Career Exploration Project

Since its founding in 2003, Encuentros Leadership has organized several programs aimed to improve dropout rates among Latino boys.

The longest-running program is the STEM Education and Career Exploration Project, which received a $35,000 grant in 2014 from the Escondido Charitable Foundation, an affiliate of The San Diego Foundation.

Launched at Cal State San Marcos in 2004 as the Career Exploration and Education Conference, the STEM Project is a one-day conference designed to teach middle school boys about the important role education plays in determining a future profession.

Rivas and his team bring in 50 to 60 Latino professionals to speak to attendees at the conference. Speakers range from police to attorneys, doctors and more.

“These men talk about their educational journey and how they got to be where they are today professionally,” Rivas said.

Encuentros Leadership Education

Going on its 12th year, the STEM Project has hosted more than 9,000 Latino boys at college campuses across North County.

“It’s exciting to hear that these boys understand if they want to get ahead in life, they need to stay in school and work hard,” Rivas continued. “That’s the most important message. The culture of learning is going to promote them into a positive place for a future career.”

Other Programs

Encuentros Leadership hosts several other programs as well, including:

  • Hombre a Hombre: Classroom curriculum designed for at-risk Latino boys to promote education and career growth.
  • Leadership Series: Raises awareness among leaders in San Diego about the dropout dilemma among Latino boys.
  • The Leadership Academy: Addresses the secondary education dropout rate among Latino males by serving as a “college-prep bootcamp” in leadership, confidence and skill building.
  • Noche de Los Padres: Six-week curriculum in which fathers and sons meet to discuss their family’s story and history. The primary purpose is for fathers and sons to build stronger relationships by communicating at a deeper level.


Since 2003, the Latino boys’ dropout rate in North County has decreased by 5 percent, according to Rivas. In addition, attendance rates have increased, disciplinary issues are nonexistent, and student grade point averages have increased by one point.

“It’s slow, incremental, progress, but you don’t turn a long-term educational problem around overnight,” he said.

What’s next for Encuentros Leadership?

“We want to focus on our Platica Hombre a Hombre (Talks Man to Man) project because dads are hungry to understand how they can become more engaged in their sons’ schools and lives,” Rivas said. “It represents a powerful opportunity for us to get dads to become more leadership-minded in schools.”

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