MIAMI — Hellen Rivas developed a knack for journalism at age 9 when her family hosted a local radio program. Since then, the 17-year-old student in Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Dual Enrollment Program has continued to pursue her passion, and most recently was selected as the Florida representative to the prestigious Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C.

The annual conference, held at the famous Newseum, targets rising high-school seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism.Chosen from hundreds of applicants, the young media aspirants receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington and a college scholarship. Among the exciting activities, the students attend a taping of NBC’s Meet the Press, tour the USA

Today headquarters and participate in a courtroom simulation. Representing each of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C students also learn about the First Amendment as a cornerstone of democracy and the vital role and responsibilities of the free press.Dual enrollment allows high school students to earn credits toward a high school diploma as well as a two-year associate degree. For Rivas, a high school senior from Hialeah who entered MDC’s Dual Enrollment program in 2010, the July 13 – 18 conference was an opportunity “to gain a lot more hands on experience.”

The mass communications and journalism major at MDC serves as managing editor for the award-winning Café Cultura literary magazine at the Hialeah Campus, and as vice president of the Hialeah Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. Since 2012 Rivas has hosted segments on La Voz de Los Jovenes for the AM radio program America Al Dia and in 2010 was named by the Univision Network as one of the Top Four teenage reporters of Miami-Dade County.

In addition to her journalism endeavors, Rivas is an accomplished violinist and singer who has appeared in television and radio commercials for both English and Spanish stations. Rivas also received the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award last month for completing 278 hours of community service during the 2012-2013 academic year.“It has been a pleasure to watch Ms.  Rivas grow at the Hialeah Campus,” said Ana Maria Bradley-Hess, academic dean at the campus. “She is a born leader — bright, talented and with a strong work ethic and dedication to serving others. She is a role model for all and we are so proud of her achievements.”

The Free Spirit and Journalism conference was started in 1999 by Al Neuharth, the late founder of USA Today who died in April. In light of Rivas’ musical talents, she was selected to a sing a tribute to Neuharth during the conference’s closing ceremony.