About Ernesto Nieto, Founder

Ernesto Nieto is the president and founder of the National Hispanic Institute, a position he has held since 1979. He is originally from Houston, Texas, in the Magnolia community, and his career includes teaching in special education with the Houston ISD and Deer Park ISD.  As a young college graduate Ernesto also worked with the Office of Economic Adjustment, an anti-poverty agency, and later joined the federal government where his department oversaw a five state region of community action agencies in the late 1960s.  In 1974, Ernesto accepted a position with the Texas Department of Community Affairs (an office of former governor, Dolph Briscoe), overseeing nearly 900 employees.  In 1979 he established the National Hispanic Institute as part of his vision to significantly expand the leadership base of the Latino community.  With his education background, he decided to concentrate on furthering the education and leadership development of young men and women.

For his 39 years of service, Ernesto’s alma mater, Southwestern University, has recognized his achievements with both a Citation of Merit award and a Distinguished Alumnus award.  Today, he also serves as a university trustee.  Nieto also holds two Honorary PhDs for his lifelong work with the Institute, one from Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth and another from Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Other recognitions also come from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the El Paso City Council, the Texas State Teachers Association, the National Education Association, and the Mexican- American School Board Association.  

Lastly, Ernesto has written two books (Third Reality, 2002 and Third Reality Revealed, 2013) on leadership that are widely used by National Hispanic Institute  students, and in 2015 was named a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Scholar by the Council of Independent Colleges in Washington, D.C.

About Gloria de León, Co-Founder

Gloria de Leon is a national expert in youth leadership development, devoting the majority of her life studying the nature of success in the Latino student population. As cofounder and executive vice president of the National Hispanic Institute, she has over 35 years of experience in organizational development and non-profit management.

As a principal creator of the NHI’s flagship program, the Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session, Gloria generated “game technology” theory to design training models used in all NHI programs today. Based on socio-psychological and cultural imprinting, the LDZ has been recognized in national publications for its innovative and successful approaches to student learning. In 2002, the LDZ became the only national Latino youth leadership program, researched and documented as having “long term and positive impact,” as part of a DePaul University study. Since 1982, NHI has served approximately 80,000 youth from across the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico, Panama and other international countries. LDZ participants gain admission to college at a rate of 98%, with 90% completing an undergraduate degree and 65% continue to graduate and professional studies.

A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Gloria is a graduate of McAllen High School and a graduate of the University of Texas at Pan American. Among her many recognitions, she is a Distinguished Alumnus from the University of Texas, Pan American, the recipient of the Human Relations Award by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, named Woman of Distinction by the Lone Star Council of the Girl Scouts, and holds two honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters from Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth and Austin College, Sherman Texas. Her contributions been featured in numerous exhibits and oral history projects including Outstanding Women of Mexican Descent at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX and Tejano Voices – Oral History of Texas Latino Leaders, University of Texas at Arlington and featured in a book entitled Chicanas In Charge, Texas Women in the Public Arena. She continues to be active in the community, serving as advisor for the Kappa Delta Chi Latina service sorority at the University of Texas at Austin, Past President of the UTPA Austin Alumni Association, and the Rio Grande Valley Network of Austin. In addition to her continued work with the National Hispanic Institute, Gloria is a consultant to non-profit and leadership organizations nationwide.

Nieto and de Leon’s Impact

The result of a 36 year effort by these two individuals, the National Hispanic Institute today enjoys a national and international reputation among the many communities it serves. Nearly 100,000 students have participate in the organization’s leadership programs since 1981 with 98% enrolling in college, 90% completing their undergraduate degrees between 4 and 5 programs. Among the older participants who attended in the 1980s and 90s, a clear and steady pattern has developed, showing many of these former students holding important posts in business, the professional world, and public life.


Ernesto Nieto

President and Founder
Native of Houston, Texas

  • Bachelor of Arts, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas
  • Master’s studies in Special Education, University of Houston, Houston, Texas
  • Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Honorary Doctor Humane Letters, Austin College, Sherman, Texas
  • Recognized by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling
  • Recognized by the National Education Association
  • Recognized by the Council of Independent Colleges
Gloria De Leon

Gloria de León

Co-founder & Executive Vice President
Native of McAllen, Texas

Distinguished Alumna, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly Univeristy of Texas Pan American), Edinburg, Texas
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, Texas
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Austin College, Sherman, Texas
Recognized by National Association for College Admissions Counseling
Involved with NHI since 1979