PRINCETON, NJ (CNN) - A summer leadership program is helping bring students from disadvantaged backgrounds into Ivy League schools in an attempt to encourage a socioeconomic and racial balance in the national leadership pool.
"I came from the projects, whatever, and I came from a very low class neighborhood," said Demetrius Cooper, one of 60 high school seniors calling Princeton University home for the summer.
Cooper is participating in the "Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America" program, a summer course which selects promising students from backgrounds considered underrepresented in the national debate to help them go on to high competitive universities.
"My family is in the chicken farm business," said Duc Nguyen, another student in the program. "Because we barely got it we had to take a huge loan, so we don't hire people to help us, so usually me and my sister go out and help with the farm work, picking eggs and stuff."
Each day, students take classes preparing them for college-level work and take them on occasional trips to New York City and college tours.
"By the time students are out of here, they really take ownership of their own education," said Jose Rosenthal, director of curriculum and facilitation for LEDA. "And they will fight for it."
The program is free to students, thanks to board members like Arun Alagappan, whose foundation has given more than $1 million to LEDA.
"The best leaders from every group brought together is a very exciting proposition for me, and part of our national DNA," said Alagappan.
His goal is to serve as a role model to students like Jesus Franco, who is now a University of Pennsylvania graduate with ambitions to go to Harvard Law School.
"I see the impact that LEDA had on me, and having been here at Princeton the past two summers I always see the impact that it has on the students and the type of relationships and connections that I make with the students," said Franco. "It's always gratifying to see the whole process all over again."
Copyright 2011 CNN. All rights reserved.