The symposium grew out of a 1988 brainstorming session centered on ways to curb the alarming 60+ percent school dropout rate for Latino teens in Idaho. In 1990, about 100 students attended the first Hispanic Youth Symposium, and a single $1,000 scholarship was awarded. Since that time, over 5,000 students from throughout Idaho have attended. Each April, 300 students come together in Sun Valley, where scholarships and prizes valued at over $15 million have been awarded. The dropout rate for Idaho Latino students has significantly improved, but remains the highest of any ethnic group in the state.
Colleges and universities from western states participate each year in the symposium. These schools recruit students, sponsor college/career booths and award scholarships. In addition, many businesses support attendance at a cost of $300 per student or make donations to the HYS scholarship fund of Gem State Diversity Initiatives (GSDI). The sponsorships and scholarship contributions are tax deductible, as GSDI is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation.
HYS is a collaborative effort between public employers, federal management contractors, private industry, state and private educational institutions, and Hispanic organizations from throughout Idaho. Operational expenses for the symposium are approved by the U.S. Department of Energy - Idaho Operations Office as part of its annual budget allocation of the Idaho National Laboratory. The symposium has received national recognition from Fortune 500 corporations and has been replicated in youth initiatives in Arizona, California, Idaho, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Washington.