K-State graduation year: 1994, 1997
Degree: BA in Modern Languages (Spanish), BA in Political Science, International Studies secondary major, 1994; Master of Regional and Community Planning
Other degree received: Executive Master of Business Administration, Rockhurst University, 2004
Current employer: United Neighborhood Centers of America
How many times did you change your major during college?
I never changed in the sense of giving up a major, but I did add the modern languages (Spanish) major and Latin American studies secondary major as I went along. I became very excited about Latin American culture and the Spanish language: it was a way of “re-conquering” my heritage.
Describe the process of choosing your major:
For political science and pre-Law, it was simple. I wanted to be an attorney and thought that these were the most logical steps to get there.
What activities/organizations were you involved in while in college?
Blue Key honor fraternity
Delta Sigma Pi
Phi Beta Kappa
Hispanic American Leadership Organization
Multicultural Student Council
Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity
Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?
I had two internships of sorts during the pursuit of my master of regional and community planning degree. First, I had the privilege of helping Anita Cortez as her graduate assistant for the PILOTs program. I helped her recruit and train tutors, produce communications, orient the faculty to our students, and lead a section of Freshman Excellence. This experience really refined my passion and emerging skill set around adult education/instruction and group dynamics.
Second, during one of the summers of my master's degree program I went with the K-State International Community Service program to serve an internship with the Fundación Cultural Yucatán in Mérida/Izamal, Yucatán, México for a little over a month. There we planned and implemented a summer camp for local students ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade and in conjunction with the Mexican Civilian Conservation Corps (Cuerpos de conservación civiles mexicanos). This experience re-emphasized my love and passion for youth development and grass-roots, community-level leadership and community development.
Describe the process of finding your first job:
I received my first professional, full-time job post-bachelor’s degree while I was finishing up my master’s degree research. I worked for a year in the Admissions Office at K-State with Pat Bosco’s team of admissions representatives. Working with and for Dr. Bosco is a highly valuable experience that I will cherish forever. He taught me about professionally representing myself, networking, recruitment, and purposeful process planning and execution.
My second full-time job was after the completion of my master’s program with the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission within the state of Kansas government. I served as an information/education representative. There I supervised AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteers at various sites around the state and planned and implemented a youth mentoring project at Topeka High School. This role provided me with valuable experience, such as grant writing, lobbying, program budgeting, and the political process (appointments, confirmations, and constituency building).
Briefly describe a typical day at your job:
No two days are really the same. While in the office I am typically on the phone, in meetings with internal colleagues, and corresponding with the members of our network. Often while in the office I am completing paperwork: grant applications, grant reports, and communications and collateral marketing materials, and negotiating contracts and agreements with internal and external stakeholders.
I travel quite a bit for my organization. This includes attendance at board meetings and our organization’s events and presenting at events and meetings on behalf of UNCA. Additionally, I travel to meet with existing members and recruit potential members, meet with existing and potential investors (some may call them funders or partners) into our work, and promote UNCA to the general public and our stakeholders. Depending on the destination, the duration varies widely. Sometimes I have conferences, presentations, or back-to-back meetings from as early as 7 a.m. through 9 or 10 p.m.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I adore the people and the mission of our work. The people in our network are the most amazing collection of committed and passionate social justice advocates I have ever met and had the pleasure to work with. They are tireless, committed, and in it for the right reasons: to build stronger communities, ensure every opportunity for children to succeed, and to help families succeed in achieving their goals and dreams.
Additionally, the general mission that we pursue together is motivating and energizing. We exist to build stronger communities through relationships among people and institutions.
In essence, I am a community organizer. Rather than organizing one neighborhood or small geographic region I organize a community of stakeholders and neighbors from all over the United States (and sometimes abroad, too, with our international counterpart, the International Federation of Settlements).
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
The demands of my job are considerable. Fundraising is a huge challenge, but not necessarily a burden. Fundraising is time-consuming and labor-intensive because it is highly relationship-driven. Travel is a necessary evil of my work, too. I strive to make it as easy on me as possible while maintaining the most cost-effective travel options for my organization’s budget (I’ve become a budget travel expert of sorts!).
The largest net challenge for me personally is that our organization could have a bigger staff and more resources. As it stands, we have a small (but mighty) team and very modest resources. We could accomplish much more if we had more, but given what we have I’m impressed with what we achieve.
What advice would you give someone interested in your field?
If you want to make a genuine difference in the lives of children, families, and neighborhoods/communities, then this field is for you. You won't get rich, nor will you likely become famous (although there are some who do: Jane Addams, Sal Alinsky, etc.) as a result of this work. But you will rise energized every day in pursuit of your mission and never have a moment of guilt for the decisions and hard work you put into it.
We need many more committed and motivated people in our field. There are just so many opportunities for advancement in the community development and nonprofit fields. I operate with the motto that we engage in this work to put ourselves out of work. The bad news is that we will not do that in our lifetimes. This is good for job security, but an indictment of how much in our society works counter to progress and advancement of the communities of color, urban neighborhoods, and the less-educated neighbors who comprise our primary constituents.