The majority of NHI’s small staff is housed out of Maxwell, Texas. NHI also maintains a staff person in Mexico and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Ernesto Nieto

President and Founder
Native of Houston, Texas


  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Texas Wesleyan University
  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Austin College
  • M.Ed., Special Education, University of Houston
  • BA, Education, Southwestern University

Honors and Awards

  • Distinguished Alumnus, Southwestern University
  • Distinguished Alumnus, Northside High School (formerly Jefferson Davis High School)
  • Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, Council of Independent Colleges
  • Human and Civil Rights Award, National Education Association
  • Recognized by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling
  • Mayor’s Excellence Award, the Association for Hispanic Municipal Officials
  • Recognition Award, Texas State Teachers Association
  • Campana Award, Mexican American School Board Association.

Founded NHI and involved since 1979
(512) 357-6137

About Ernesto Nieto

As president and founder of the National Hispanic Institute, Ernesto Nieto has numerous awards of distinction and honor that underscore his 34 years of service to the Latino community.   A Distinguished Alumnus and Merit Award Recipient from his alma mater, Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, he also holds two honorary Ph.D.s, one from Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth and the other from Austin College in Sherman, Texas.  He currently serves as trustee of Southwestern University and served in a similar policy capacity at DePaul University in Chicago. He has received top community awards from the El Paso City Council, National Association of College Counselors, and the Mexican American School Board Association.  More recently, he received the George I. Sanchez Award for Civil Rights from the National Education Association on July 2013, his highest national recognition to date.

Ernesto’s life mission is best reflected in the work of the National Hispanic Institute (NHI), an organization that was first established in 1979 with a handful of high school students which has since grown to become national and international in its reach, serving nearly 5,000 youth annually.  Over 70,000 individuals have participated in a span of the organization’s 34 years of service, 98% of whom enroll in college, with 90% graduating in 4 to 5 years, and over 67% continuing into advanced studies. He has written two books on Latino community leadership with articles featuring NHI appearing in numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Ft. Worth Telegram, Austin American-Statesman, Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, and Christian Science Monitor.

Ernesto’s guiding vision is informed by his early life experiences and observations of his parents’ work in Houston.  Raised by a mother and father who used imagination, determination, and will in their work with youth living in tough neighborhoods in Houston, Ernesto established NHI as a means of providing high school age youth with an institutional framework that adds value, purpose, and mission to their personal development and as future community leaders.  Three high school learning experiences have evolved over the years through NHI: The Great Debate for freshmen, the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session for sophomores, and the Collegiate World Series for juniors. Each of these programs emphasizes the importance of personal excellence as an essential leadership quality in a world where Latinos are part of a larger global culture.  From this premise, NHI works toward building community equity and asset development in Latino community life as a means of realizing community goals and enhancing the larger American experience. These elements are highlighted each year through NHI’s annual signature event, Celebración, an assembly of specially selected high school youth participants from communities throughout the U.S. and various Latin American countries.

Additionally, the recent re-launch of the Collegiate Leadership Network for NHI college students demonstrates NHI’s intent to further expand its work into the college ranks.  NHI currently offers the John F. Lopez Fellows program for undergraduate students who wish to spend summers as program interns with NHI, while recent discussion by the board of trustees has suggested a summer-long learning experiences for its college alumni.  These efforts signal the organization’s movement towards establishing a full learning cycle of leadership experiences that engage NHI youth from their freshman year of high school throughout their undergraduate studies.

These combined efforts have taken place throughout the years without assistance from federal or private grants.  Families are the primary contributors of the funding source for NHI in fulfilling its mission. Together, with the assistance of both private and public schools and the generosity of colleges and universities, youth who gain admission to NHI programs are provided with learning opportunities that employ their imagination, inventiveness, and inherent capacities to develop methods of attaining personal and community goals while honing the behaviors, social outlooks, and habits toward the outcomes of self-sufficiency, self-management, and self-direction.  Through these efforts, NHI and its stakeholders are therefore directly investing in the future of our Latino communities as well as the larger U.S. society.

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Gloria De León

Co-Founder and Senior Executive Vice President
Native of McAllen, Texas


  • Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, Texas Wesleyan University
  • Doctor of Humane Letter, honoris causa, Austin College
  • BA, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly University of Texas Pan American)

Awards and Honors

  • Distinguished Alumnus, University of Texas-Pan American
  • Recognized by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling
  • Woman of Distinction, Girl Scouts of Texas
  • Community Advisor, Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, Inc., University of Texas at Austin Chapter

Involved with NHI since 1979

About Gloria de Leon
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 nonprofit management.  As a chief strategist, she defined NHI as an independent, enterprising organization, working as a curriculum and program designer for various populations including at-risk, migrant, and high ability youth.  She also serves as a consultant to colleges and universities on Latino student recruitment and retention, with a special emphasis on the needs of the Latina student population.

As Creator of the Lorenzo de Zavala (LDZ) Youth Legislative Session, Gloria became the principal architect of the high intensity, “game technology” training models used in all NHI programs today.  Based on the 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 over 150 sessions have been hosted nationally and internationally, serving approximately 30,000 youth from across the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico, Panama and other international countries.  As NHI’s most successful program, participants gain admission to college at a rate of 98%, with 90% completing an undergraduate degree and 65% of LDZers pursuing graduate and professional studies.


Kathryn Nicole Nieto

Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President
Native of Austin, Texas


  • MBA, University of Texas at Austin
  • MBA, El Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey
  • BA, Latin American Studies, Vassar College

Involved with NHI since 1983
(512) 357-6137 ext. 201

About Nicole Nieto
Practically born into NHI, Nicole has been active with the organization since the day her father established the entity in 1979. One of the first volunteers, Nicole has had a front row seat to the Institute’s development and has also been a part of spearheading major expansion and growth. A member of the 1986 class of the Texas LDZ, Nicole went on to complete her undergraduate studies at Vassar College. Soon after, Nicole returned to Texas and went right back to work at the NHI home office as a part of NHI’s growth projects like the expansion of the local Great Debate model, the launch of the Collegiate World Series, and Collegiate Leadership Network. Years later, Nicole relocated to Mexico to pursue a double/joint MBA program with the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin and El Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.

While in Mexico, she gained a deeper appreciation for culture and language and this led to her pioneering NHI’s Mexico Language Program (MLP) in Monterrey and Guanajuato. Years later, this international effort was expanded into Spain and Argentina as well. After receiving her MBA, Nicole returned to the home office in Maxwell working in the daily operations of the organization but also helping to direct fundraising efforts, development of the Maxwell ranch, and continued expansion into Latin America.

As NHI’s Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Nicole oversees day to day operations, alumni relations, fundraising, strategic relationships with universities, media relations, research and demonstration projects, international development, evaluation, and growth planning. She lives in Kyle with twin daughters Isabella and Paolina, both Great Debate, LDZ, and CWS alumnae, and the younger Mackenzie. “Bella and Pao” will be third-year participants of Celebracion 2018 and active volunteers with NHI at Austin.

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Julio Irving Cotto

Senior Vice President, Enrollment and Programs
Native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania


  • MLA, Humanities, St. Edward’s University
  • BA, Latin American Studies and Philosophy, Boston University

Honors and Awards

  • 2001 Brother of the Year, Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
  • 2010 Distinguished Alumnus for Service to NHI, National Hispanic Institute – Celebracion 2010

Involved with NHI since 1997
(512) 357-6137 ext. 211 / e-mail: jcotto@nhimail.com
www.facebook.com/NHI.Julio Twitter – @NHIJulio Instagram – @NHIJulio

About Julio Cotto
The first Pennsylvania NHI alumnus and one of the first Northeast NHI alumni, Julio Irving Cotto is Senior Vice President overseeing enrollment and Director of the Great Debate and the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session at the home office in Maxwell, Texas. Julio has been a member of the home office team for over ten years between 2002-2008 and 2011-present. 

From 2008-2010, Julio was a member of the operations and student development team at Junior Achievement of New York (JANY) in Manhattan. At JANY, he served as Director of Community Initiatives and led the local Hispanic Initiative working to expanding financial literacy and economic education programs to schools through New York City and Long Island with large Latino populations. After his time at JANY, Julio co-founded the Kingsbridge Innovative Design Charter School (KIDS), a kindergarten and 1st grade elementary charter school in the Bronx. The school featured new teaching methods and had a curriculum rooted in creativity, experiential learning, and a unique partnership with the Park Rangers department. After his time with KIDS, Julio returned to the Institute to work in operations, curriculum, and program expansion.

A lover of Latin American art forms, Mr. Cotto founded Boston University’s first Latin American Dance Group, Danzón and he is a member of Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance, where he serves as a member of the traditional musical group, dance performing company, and advisory board. An avid speaker and presenter, Mr. Cotto has given workshops, delivered speeches, and conducted training at Phi Iota Alpha’s National Convention and National Leadership Training Institutes, the Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition Annual Conference, Boston University’s Marsh Chapel, the New England Latino Student Leadership Conference, KIPP National Convention, the University of Texas at Austin’s Latino Leadership Summit, and various events with the United Methodist Church.

Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Julio received a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Philosophy from Boston University and he holds a Master of Liberal Arts degree from St. Edward’s University where he presented his thesis, Looking for Direction: Three Paths to Leadership in the Latino Community. He and his wife Mayra, originally from El Paso, and his 3-year-old daughter Sofia Regine live in Austin.

Chris Nieto

Senior Vice President, Strategic Partnerships
Native of Austin, TX


  • BA, Southwestern University

Involved with NHI since 1990

About Chris Nieto
A native of Austin, Texas and graduated from Southwestern University, Chris has been involved in NHI since his father founded the organization. After college graduation, Chris completed a year of service with NHI in New Mexico with AmeriCorps VISTA. After his service, Chris joined the Maxwell home office in 1998 serving as longtime director of the Great Debate and later, the Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships. After his time at NHI, Chris founded Qobe Group doing organizational and leadership consulting throughout the U.S. with nonprofits and school districts. He also become a major leader and advocate with the Arthritis Foundation, primarily the juvenile rheumatoid arthritis community, and as served on numerous educational and service boards in Hays and Travis Counties including the opening of the Austin Community College Hays Campus in Kyle. Chris then went to work for several years with the Round Rock Independent School District professional development team.

Chris returned to rejoin the Maxwell team August 2018. Chris will oversee the expansion of NHI programs to new communities throughout the Americas and help launch new pilot projects. He is also the lead team member in managing relationships and partnership with NHI’s College Register institution. He is the father of future NHIers, Mia Alessadra (14) and Ana Lucia (11).

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Dylan Besteiro

Director, Business & Finance
Native of Brownsville, Texas


  • BA, Mass Communications, Texas State University

Involved with NHI since 2014
(512) 357-6137 ext. 208

Efrain Cordova

Associate Director of Business & Finance
Native of Hidalgo, Texas


  • Swarthmore College

Involved with NHI since 2011
(512) 357-6137 ext. 206