CHCI Graduate Fellows Explore Timely Issues During Young Latino Leaders Summit Series

On April 16, the nine 2011-12 Graduate Fellows moderated their respective public policy roundtable discussions on insightful and timely issues affecting the Latino community and the nation. The areas of focus included—education, health, housing, law, and science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM). The discussions, which took place on Capitol Hill, were attended by members of Congress, Congressional staffers, public policy experts, national leaders, media, and other change makers. The summit was the culmination of months of training in becoming better versed in the public policy formulation process. Some of the high quality panelists/subject matter experts included: Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Eduardo Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, U.S. Dept. of Education, and Max Sevillia, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, NALEO Educational Fund, to name a few. Below is a recap of each summit.

STEM Graduate Summit # 1

Throughout the day, three summits ran simultaneously. The first of three STEM Summits for the day was entitled, The Growing Hispanic Population and the Implications on the Oil and Natural Gas Industry was moderated by STEM Graduate Fellow Omar De Leon. Opening remarks were offered by Marty Durbin, the Executive Vice President of the American Petroleum Institute.  

Panelists included:

  • Ray Dempsey, Jr. – Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, BP America
  • Kyle Isakower – Vice President, Regulatory and Economic Policy, American Petroleum Institute
  • Pilar Montoya – CEO, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • Bill Valdez – Principal Deputy and Acting Director, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, U.S. Department of Energy

The panelists discussed the energy consumption and workforce trends of the growing Latino community and how underlying issues such as Latino involvement in STEM careers, could ensure America’s future energy security. The panelists agreed Latinos will be the source of a significant portion of the nation’s increased energy demand into the future as predicted by demographic projections. Also, as the main driver of the nation’s workforce growth into the next decade as projected, the ability for Latinos to succeed in STEM fields will be critical for America’s competitiveness, including that of the oil and natural gas industry. The panelists also agreed this will ultimately affect how well the industry can meet future demand for increased domestic production and increase America’s energy independence.

Law Graduate Summit

The second of the three simultaneous morning summits was the Law Graduate Summit entitled,
Recent State Voting Laws: A Barrier to the Latino Vote? was moderated by Law Graduate Fellow Jessica González. The Law Graduate Summit convened an expert panel that included:

  • Lara Cole – Public Policy Counsel, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 
  • Eddie Hailes – General Counsel/Managing Director, Advancement Project
  • Mark Hugo Lopez – Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center
  • Max Sevillia – Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, NALEO Educational Fund

The expert panel discussed the heightened attention that has been paid to the Latino community as the 2012 elections approach. Panelists discussed topics such as:

  • State legislation passed to restrict stages of the voting process in regards to Latinos 
  • The more aggressive measures seen in states with large or rapidly growing Latino populations and the indication that they will disproportionately impact low-income voters
  • The impact that the laws could have on the ability for Latinos to effectively participate and utilize the voting potential garnered as Latino youth turn 18

The panel stressed the imperative that pressure be placed on the Administration and lawmakers in order to preserve Latinos' rights and representation in the electorate.


Secondary Education Graduate Summit                                                    

The last of the simultaneous morning summits was the first Secondary Education Graduate Summit entitled, “Analysis of Flexibility Waivers, Process and Impact on English Language Learners” moderated by Secondary Education Graduate Fellow Gisela Ariza.

The panel for this very interesting summit included:

  • Marco Davis Deputy Director, White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics
  • James Ferg-Cadima – Regional Counsel, MALDEF
  • Luis-Gustavo Martinez – Senior Policy Analyst, National Education Association

The discussion began with all panelists in agreement over the flexibility waiver being a controversial proposal that aims to provide states with the flexibility to create positive academic outcomes as an alternative to the burdensome constraints created by the No Child Left Behind Act.  All also agreed that it is extremely important to continue to investigate how this affects English Language Learners (ELL).  The panelists believed that although the flexibility waivers are intended to protect students, set high standards, and provide flexibility to states, the waiver application is an in-depth document that needs to be fully evaluated.  Ensuring that states follow through with their proposals will be the most difficult task for the Department of Education.

STEM Graduate Summit # 2

STEM Graduate Fellow Melissa Ocana moderated the second STEM Summit of the day.
The summit entitled “Overcoming Environmental Injustices: Getting Latino Kids Outdoors” featured opening remarks by Rowan Gould, Deputy Director for Operations, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and included panelists:

  • Lisa Garcia – Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Laura Hickey – Senior Director of Eco-Schools USA and Global Warming Education, National Wildlife Federation
  • Jackie Ostfeld – Chair of the Outdoor Alliance for Kids and National Youth Representative of Building Bridges to the Outdoors, Sierra Club
  • Roger Rivera – President and Founder, National Hispanic Environmental Council

The panel believed that many Latino children face barriers to outdoor activity resulting in a disservice to the Latino community.  Melissa introduced facts that have proven outdoor activity promotes critical-thinking skills, academic improvements, and formative experiences that can create interest in the sciences and stewardship of the local environment.  The panelists agreed that more attention must be paid to the lack of Latino representation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and we should consider promotion of outdoor activity and education as another means to increasing STEM engagement.

Housing Graduate Summit

CHCI Housing Graduate Fellow Janel Gomez moderated the Housing Graduate Summit entitled Latino Homeownership after the Collapse: Mitigating foreclosures and Wealth Loss in our Hardest Hit Communities.” Panelists included in this discussion:

  • Ethan Handelman – Vice President for Policy & Advocacy, National Housing Conference
  • Sham Manglik Housing Policy Analyst, National Low Income Housing Coalition

Janel led a rousing dialog that focused on how the Latino community has been disproportionally affected by the foreclosure crisis and have lost 60 percent of its wealth since the housing crisis began.  Panelists Ethan Handelman and Sham Manglik stressed that as foreclosure mitigation programs are ramped up, including expenditure of $25 billion in Mortgage Settlement Funds, it is vital that the needs of our hardest hit communities and communities of color are addressed. 


Higher Education Graduate Summit

The Higher Education Graduate Summit entitled, “Latinos in Private For-Profit Institutions and College Completion, was moderated by CHCI Higher Education Graduate Fellow Enrique Soto. Opening remarks were offered by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. The panelists for this much anticipated summit included:

  • Jose Cruz – Vice President for Higher Education Policy and Practice
  • Eduardo Ochoa – Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
  • Marcela Iglesias – Campus Director, DeVry University
  • Beth Stein – Oversight and Investigations Counsel and Policy Director, U.S. Senate HELP Committee

The discussion began with acknowledgement that Latinos are quickly becoming the fastest growing minority in the United States and the corresponding increase in Hispanic enrollment at institutions of higher education. The conversation then centered on limited enrollment space at many major public colleges and universities, and the growing trend in Latino student enrollment at for-profit schools. While for-profit institutions are capable of serving the increasingly diverse population, educational outcomes of Hispanic students enrolling at four-year, for-profit institutions remain stagnantly low. The panel then spoke of ways that the enrollment rate of Latino students attending these four-year for-profit institutions could possibly be raised in the near future. In closing the discussion, all believed special attention needs to be focused on ways in which students are recruited and supported throughout their educational careers.


STEM Graduate Summit # 3

The third and final STEM Summit of the day entitled, “STEM Education and STEM Careers: Not Just Inputs and Outputs,” was moderated by STEM Graduate Fellow Chelsea Martinez and featured panelists:

  • Jennifer Cunningham – Program Manager, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering
  • Dr. Jessie DeAro – Program Director, National Science Foundation
  • Camsie McAdams – Director of STEM Initiatives, D.C. Public Schools
  • Temeca Simpson – Program Manager & P-TECH Liaison, IBM                             
  • Eleanor Sohnen – Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute


Martinez led the discussion of the current STEM educational landscape and how reforms in teaching, training, and transfer will support the development of a strengthened Latino STEM-capable workforce.
Martinez noted that the Latino demographic is the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States, and have also demonstrated the highest growth in higher education enrollment over the past decade. However, the panel pointed out that very little of this growth has been in the majors and programs that confer skills in STEM.  The panel also agreed that an overwhelming majority of Latino students begin their college experience in community college due to finances and other factors and addressing STEM gaps at this level is just one lever towards smoothing the connection between the college experience and 21st century jobs.


Health Graduate Summit

Health Graduate Fellow Nicole Burda moderated the Health Graduate Summit entitled,Food Deserts, Childhood Obesity, and the Latino Community: Strategic Public-Private Partnerships.” Opening remarks were given by Julia-Feliz Sessoms, Director of Global Policy, PepsiCo. The panelists for this discussion included:

  • Paula Dutko – Economist, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Gus Schumacher – Executive Vice President of Policy, Wholesome Wave
  • Ryan D. Shadrick Wilson – General Counsel and Policy Advisor, Partnership for a Healthier America

Burda led the discussion which focused on the current food desert landscape, obesity epidemic, and promising strategies which facilitate strategic private-public partnerships and build on community assets to improve accessibility of healthy food. The panel discussed the possible negative effects obesity can have in the near future within the Latino community.  The panelists also discussed the potential this can ripple throughout the nation, precipitating a tsunami of healthcare costs and contributing to stunted economic growth and national progress. The panel was in agreement that increasing access to healthy food in underserved areas is a critical component of any comprehensive effort to improve public health and reverse the obesity epidemic.  The prevalence of obesity among Latino children and youth cannot be ignored, as Latinos are the fastest growing and most populous ethnic minority group in the United States and are essential to the future of America.


Secondary Education Graduate Summit # 2

The final summit of the day was moderated by Secondary Education Graduate Fellow Blanchi Roblero and was entitled, “Professional Development: The Importance of Preparing Teachers to Educate Vulnerable Populations.” The expert panel for this discussion included:

  • Lily Eskelsen – Vice President, National Education Association
  • Catalina Fortina – Vice President for Education and Director UFT Teacher Center, United Federation of Teachers
  • Raul Gonzalez – Director of Legislative Affairs, National Council of La Raza
  • Joanne Urrutia – Deputy Director, Department of Education Office of Language Acquisition 

Roblero spoke of how the education system can address the needs of English Language Learners (ELL). She reminded the panel and audience that in the midst of current education budget discussions, the teaching profession has been targeted for not closing the educational achievement gap or preparing America’s students and future workforce to be successful in a global economy.  The panelists laid emphasis on states inadequately preparing teachers to educate Americans, in particular vulnerable populations like ELLs. One solution offered was to find out exactly what does and does not work, then provide additional training for teachers of ELLs and general education teachers in order to bridge this gap.


The day was filled with impressive ideologies from the nine young fellows and expert panelists. CHCI thanks all of its panelists for their time and expertise as well as the attendees who supported this outstanding event.  Click here to read the Graduate Policy Fellows’ White Papers and to view the photo gallery.

eResources