Identifying and Addressing Leaks in the STEM Education Pipeline

This post was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, Homeroom

Photo of female student in a classroom smiling at the camera.Students need a strong foundation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math, including computer science) education to be prepared for the careers and challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Algebra I is considered the “gatekeeper” course to advanced math and science, with early access and enrollment crucial for students’ future success in STEM. However, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s newly released “data story” , while 80% of public school students are able to take Algebra I early — in 8th grade — only 24% of students actually do so. This “leak” in the STEM pipeline can have long-term effects on students’ education and career opportunities.

A map of the United States on a black background, with the heading "% of 8th graders who took Algebra I in 8th grade by school district." The area represented by land are dark gray with school district borders in white. Very few of the districts are green, indicating 100% enrollment in 8th grade Algebra I.The data story, which leverages data from the 2015-16 Civil Rights Data Collection, finds that students’ access to Algebra I in 8th grade is inconsistent across the country. Access can be impacted by a number of factors, including the location of the school or the type of school a student attends. Further, the data show that not all students with access to Algebra I were enrolled in the course at the same rate. The Department recognizes that STEM education is a pathway to successful careers and is committed to ensuring equal access to a strong STEM education for all students.

On National STEM Day, the Department announced its response to this “leak” by surpassing President Trump’s directive to invest $200 million in high-quality STEM education. In total, the Department obligated $279 million in STEM discretionary grant funds in Fiscal Year 2018. “It’s important that all students have access to a high-quality STEM education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said. “These discretionary grant programs and this Administration’s increased focus on STEM will help ensure our nation’s students are exposed to STEM early in their lifelong education journeys and will have the tools needed for success in the 21st century economy.”

#RethinkSchool: Rethinking Education in the Wake of Devastation

For me, and for many, the Back-to-School season evokes nostalgia.  It is not unusual for adults and children alike to remember their first days of school as students.  As a former school teacher and principal, I recall the Back-to-School season as the most exciting time of year!  I am pleased that in my role as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the season continues to be full of the hope and promise of the opportunities that lie ahead.

In an effort to celebrate and commemorate this year’s return to schools, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) visited Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the larger U.S. Department of Education’s Rethink School Tour.  During the trip, we specifically set out to explore schools that were implementing innovation in areas including, but not limited to, STEM and workforce development with Hispanic student populations.  Over the course of 6 days I visited 5 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, 2 junior high schools, 6 high schools, 1 community college and 3 universities!  I learned a great deal, and am pleased to provide a glimpse into a number of my noteworthy experiences.

Aimee Viana visits with a student at St. Brendan High School in Miami, Florida.

In Miami, Florida, I visited a charter school, a traditional public school and a faith-based school. Each demonstrated areas in which innovation was occurring in education. For instance, at Doral Academy of Technology, school Principal Mr. Carlos Ferralls highlighted the collaboration between their high school and middle school in STEM, which had resulted in improved academic performance. I visited with students in two robotics classrooms, and saw the projects created by “future cities engineering” students, as well.  At Southwest Miami High School, school Principal Dr. Carlos Rios showcased the school’s Academy of Finance, a banking and finance program which includes a student-run credit union. At the school, I was also fortunate to visit the Florida International University (FIU) Teach program, a secondary STEM teacher preparation initiative that is a dual enrollment partnership between FIU and Miami-Dade County Public schools. At St. Brendan High School, I met the school’s principal, Dr. José Rodelgo-Bueno, and learned how the school empowers both teachers and students through innovative learning in their STEM, Medical Sciences, Law and International Business and Performing Arts Academies. During this visit, I also met with the Archdiocese of Miami Catholic Schools Office team, which included Superintendent Dr. Kim Pryzblyski, and held a roundtable discussion on the impact of innovative learning with STEM and Medical Science Academy student representatives, as well as school administrators and faculty.

At Miami Dade College and Florida International University (FIU), officials shared their latest initiatives in STEM, apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities.  Upon meeting with President of Miami Dade College Dr. Eduardo Padrón and members of the administration and faculty, I gained a glimpse into their MDCWorks initiative, a next-generation career center focused on career and technical education, as well as on facilitating internships and professional development opportunities.  Through MDCWorks, additional access will be provided for students to engage in career-ready apprenticeships.

My visit to FIU had numerous highlights.  Accompanied by Dr. Elizabeth Bejar, Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, I met with students, staff and faculty members and toured many of FIU’s innovative initiatives, including the STEM Transformation Institute, Tech Station, Mastery Math Lab, learned about their new Law Enforcement Apprenticeship Program and visited the Florida Power and Light Call Center, an apprenticeship partnership between FIU and Florida Power and Light Company.  Following a conversation with President of FIU Dr. Mark Rosenberg and additional senior staff and faculty, the Initiative participated in a regional convening on apprenticeships – featuring representatives from FIU, Miami Dade County Public Schools and local business leaders – where we discussed the importance of collaborative relationships between public and private sectors in creating an apprenticeship and work-based experiences pipeline in their local community. The visit to FIU concluded with a roundtable dialogue with aspiring Latina educators, who are in preparation to be STEM teachers through the FIUteach program.

Aimee Viana visits with a student at University Gardens High School in Puerto Rico.

I then traveled to Puerto Rico to visit schools in San Juan and Bayamón. In conjunction with the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Dr. Julia Keleher and I visited various schools with a focus on STEM and innovation. At University Gardens High School, school Principal Denise Valderama and students were eager to share their work in astrophysics, robotics and engineering. In addition, I visited the Design Thinking program at Escuela Francisco Manrique Cabrera in Bayamón and learned more about how teachers are being empowered and trained to reshape their school environment. Led by school Principal Mrs. Rebeca Fuentes Rivera, this school is collaborating with Design Tech High School in Redwood City, CA in an exchange program, where they send teachers and students to learn more about innovative approaches to education.

While in Puerto Rico, I also had the opportunity to meet with the new president of the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Jorge Haddock, and interim Vice President Dr. Ubaldo Córdova-Figueroa.  During this meeting, I learned about the E-ship Network being developed at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez campus, the goal of which is to expose students to entrepreneurship and innovation.  I also met with senior leadership and faculty members at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus and learned about the latest initiatives being offered for both traditional students and adult learners. Despite the impact of Hurricane Maria, I was amazed by the resiliency, adaptability and determination of the students and educators in Puerto Rico.

My Rethink School tour concluded by visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands. In coordination with the Department of Education of the U.S. Virgin Islands, I visited schools on St. Croix and St. Thomas.  During this visit, I was able to learn how the schools were managing the recovery from the damage sustained by two hurricanes last year, as both Hurricanes Irma and Maria had devastating effects on the islands.

Aimee Viana visits with preschool students at the Granny Preschool program, a pilot preschool initiative for 4 year olds in the US Virgin Islands.

In St. Croix, I was accompanied by Insular Superintendent Ms. Colleen Williams and learned more about how the schools serve Hispanic students and support the needs of English learners.  Together, we visited Alfredo Andrews Elementary School, Claude O. Markoe Elementary School and Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School.  I also had the opportunity to visit the sites of their pilot preschool initiative, Granny Pre-school Program for 4 year olds, and learned about how this new program serves their youngest students and their families.  I also had the opportunity to visit John H. Woodson Jr. High School and learn about ways in which they support English learners and motivate their students through participation in the AVID program.

In St. Thomas, accompanied by Insular Superintendent Dionne Wells-Hedrington, I visited Joseph Sibilly Elementary School, and learned more about how teachers and students are utilizing the iReady Program to determine individual student progress and monitor improvement.  I also had the opportunity to witness how school campuses were being created from the ground up through modular classrooms and other temporary structures at the Charlotte Amalie High School campus for Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and Lockhart Elementary School.  The effort to adapt and innovate in order to provide students with a safe learning environment while recovering from the devastating effects of last year’s storms was noteworthy. For instance, officials discussed how teachers played a role in designing their modular classrooms to best meet their needs.

The final stop of the Back-to-School Tour was the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus.  There, I had the opportunity to meet with Vice President for Business Development and Innovation Dr. Haldone Davies and other administrators and faculty.  While Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread damage on the U. S. Virgin Islands, I was impressed by their commitment to innovate and utilize their rebuilding efforts to rethink the ways in which the university supports its students and impacts its local economy.

Despite the extensive recovery process, I was impressed by the tenacity and perseverance of administrators and teachers as they worked tirelessly to get schools ready for teaching and learning.  While they have much work to do in recovery, they have seen an opportunity to innovate as they rebuild and the Initiative looks forward to see their continual progress.

Our Back-to-School tour allowed us to highlight ways in which schools are rethinking their approaches to serving and supporting students.  At each of the site visits, I was pleased to see that teachers and students were provided with opportunities that recognize their promise, potential and hope to succeed.  I witnessed first-hand innovation and commitment by schools to ignite love of learning through education within a variety of school options, from pre-school through postsecondary education.  I look forward to seeing the continual progress of these inventive programs and initiatives as they work to ensure pathways to prosperity are open and accessible for Hispanic students – and all students.

Aimee Viana is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics at the U.S. Department of Education.

Betsy’s Blog – What America Can Learn from Switzerland’s Apprenticeships

This post was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education’s blog, Homeroom

There’s a lot we as Americans can learn from other countries and how they set their students up for successful lives and careers. That’s why as part of my first trip abroad as Secretary I chose to visit Switzerland and witness their innovative approach to apprenticeships. There this sort of educational opportunity is not only the norm, it is highly coveted by students!

A photo of a student in an apprenticeship program describing his work to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. They are standing next to a table with equipment, including robotic elements. Other students are working in the background.

In Switzerland, the education sector partners closely with businesses to provide apprenticeships for students in a variety of professions. Two-thirds of current Swiss students pursue their education through one of the 250 types of government-recognized apprenticeships. Meanwhile, only 17 percent of U.S. students have worked in an internship or apprenticeship related to their career goals.

A picture of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listening to a high school student demonstrating her program. They are standing in a room with a large piece of machinery connected to a control panel.Swiss apprenticeships include programs for welders and carpenters, like they do in the U.S., but Swiss students can also apprentice in the healthcare, finance and law fields as well. In fact, CEOs of multiple major Swiss companies began their careers as apprentices. That’s not commonplace in America, but perhaps it should be!

Such a robust culture of technical education demonstrates three key things. First, that young people can be productive members of the workforce. Second, that businesses should take an active role in cultivating the next generation of talent. And third, that hands-on learning should not be seen as a last resort for those who struggle in a traditional classroom setting.  All students benefit when they have the chance to apply what they are learning in school to solve problems and accomplish practical applications in the workplace.

There are a multitude of paths a student can pursue in higher education, and each should be seen as valid. If a path is the right fit for the student, then it’s the right education. No stigma should stand in the way of a student’s journey to success.

That’s why President Trump directed his Administration to find ways to expand apprenticeships back here at home. We joined with leaders from business, labor and education with the charge to expand the number of options to “earn and learn”, and to encourage the private sector and higher education to advance this important opportunity for our nation’s economic future. We made a number of concrete, common-sense recommendations, which you can learn more about here.

It’s true that education in the United States isn’t exactly the same as it is in Switzerland, and that U.S. companies don’t have the same experience in delivering apprenticeships as Swiss companies. But there’s still much that we can learn from the Swiss model. It’s our hope that Swiss companies operating in the U.S. will help lead the way by setting the best examples for other U.S. businesses to participate in apprenticeships. The many opportunities apprenticeships afford students are worth highlighting and expanding, and we’ll continue to do so.

Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education. 

Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.



Moving Away From Home for College — Some Advice


I am from a small community in northern California. My parents are older than most of my friends’ parents and neither of them speaks English. For many years I acted as their eyes, ears, and feet, translating for them at doctor appointments, the pharmacy, school, etc. As soon as I turned 16, I learned how to drive so I could take my mother, who does not know how to drive, wherever she needed to go, whether it was to appointments, the grocery store, and/or work.

When it came time to attend college, I decided to take a huge risk and move down to southern California to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). I had no relatives in southern California, so my parents were not too excited about me living seven hours away, by myself. Moving to Long Beach also meant I had to move out of my home, and although my parents would have liked to support me, I knew that was an expense they could not assume. I applied for many scholarships, and fortunately received enough to make the move to CSULB. It was not an easy decision, but it was the best decision I could have ever made.

Being in Long Beach was not always easy, and I felt very lonely at times. More than once I found myself questioning if the degree was worth being so far away from my family. During those hard times, I had to remind myself why I was at school and who I was doing this for. By receiving a good education, I was not only following my dreams and opening doors to many opportunities for myself, but I was also carrying the dreams of my family and an entire generation. I would think about how hard my father worked in the fields every day, and how all my educational accomplishments always brought a smile to his face. I liked to think I was paying my father back for all of his hard work by pursuing my higher education goals. Every time I thought that I couldn’t do it anymore, I thought of all the hard work I had already done to be here, and that motivated me to continue persevering.

Not every day was hard, though. During my first year at CSULB, I joined many organizations. My colleagues at the Beach Engineering Student Success Team (BESST), College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) became my family away from home. From these organizations, I found new friends and studying partners that helped me have a successful first year of college. Thanks to one of these organizations, CAMP, I was selected for this internship with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. I am also extremely thankful for BESST, and all of the doors it has opened for me. By providing me with a student mentor and allowing me to mentor high school girls interested in STEM, BESST assisted me with tutoring and introduced me to a group of people that I share a common interest with.

With my degree, I want to be an astronaut. This career path is why I chose mechanical engineering for my major, and I hope to continue on this track after I graduate. One of the top goals of space exploration is visiting Mars, and I want to help achieve this goal. Reaching Mars is not only my dream, but the dream of my generation. I am not doing this for myself, but for everyone. We all have a calling, and I believe exploring space is mine.

If I could give any high school senior advice, it would be to take the risk. It will hard to be away from home, but it will be worth it in the end. It allowed me to give my undivided attention to my academics and forced me to interact with my peers, who then became my community.

Rebeca Saray Griego is a college sophomore at California State University, Long Beach. She was a 2017 summer intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.


Student Teaching Paved the Way for Life in the Classroom

Prior to my final semester in high school, I felt conflicted about the idea of teaching. My whole life I watched my mother teach countless students in low-income populations, where she had both positive and negative experiences. Growing up, I wanted to do anything except teach; it was at the bottom of my list of career choices. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when I volunteered in my mother’s classroom, that I found the joy in teaching. I felt as though this was something I was called to do; I felt like I found my fit.

Throughout college, I had observed, volunteered, interned, and taught mini-lessons at various low- and high-income classrooms around Austin, Texas. I learned from teachers with different styles of teaching, all with their own unique teaching philosophy embedded in their work. All of these experiences led me to and prepared me for my semester-long student teaching adventure during the spring of my senior year, an adventure that left me with unforgettable memories.

As a student teacher, I worked in a classroom, full-time, with the guidance of a seasoned mentor teacher. Even with training, I was extremely nervous for my first time teaching daily lessons. “What if I’m terrible at teaching? What if the kids hate me? What if my mentor teacher hates me? What if I hate teaching?”

My nerves were eased when I started my semester in a lovely, well-behaved, first-grade classroom in a middle-class suburban school in Austin. My mentor teacher was patient, kind, smart, and experienced. She answered all of my questions and entrusted me with the freedom to discover my own teaching style. The reality of teaching didn’t seem so scary anymore, as I became more confident with the help of my mentor and my faculty advisor.

I was fortunate to have been placed in a school that encouraged hands-on learning, had resources available for every student, and had an active parent community, but I was constantly reminded that not every school was like this. Hearing from my classmates and reflecting on past experiences in other schools, I became aware of how many differences exist in the resources, and economic and human capital levels of schools in Austin. I knew that if I wanted to teach after I graduated, I would need the skills I learned while student teaching to succeed in any school environment.

I fell in love with teaching during those four months of student teaching; specifically, the idea of running my classroom and helping students from all backgrounds. As the semester progressed, I started discussing career options with my mentor, professors, career services staff, friends, and most importantly my parents. By the end of the semester, I was excited about teaching a variety of students and knew this was the right move for me. In my heart, I knew I was ready to become a full-time teacher, because of the valuable lessons I learned while student teaching. The support system I had created during my time as an undergraduate guided me toward life after graduation. This experience of student teaching and my community at school made me see that I wanted to teach before I did anything else. I was young and passionate, and student teaching showed me where in the community I was needed.

Following student teaching, I was fortunate to find a teaching position in a low-income area in Austin. Although it was a difficult teaching 90 fourth-graders every day, I remembered the hard lessons I learned in student teaching, and what my mentor teacher, faculty advisor, and mother would say to me. I soon realized that the support system I found during my time in college was still there when I became a full-time teacher. These people were still able to answer my endless questions and advise me during those hard moments. Thinking back on my undergraduate career and journey to becoming a teacher, my time as a student teacher was one of the most important moments for me. Student teaching allowed me to explore my future career and make connections that last to this day.

Bernadette Labrado is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She was a summer 2017 intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Betsy’s Blog: Listening Sessions on School Safety and Climate

This blog was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Over the past several weeks there has been much discussion around how school discipline policies can ensure a safe and supportive climate where children can learn. While there are many different approaches, everyone agrees that discrimination against any student is abhorrent and wrong. Federal laws prohibit such discrimination in our nation’s schools, and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforces these civil rights laws to ensure equal access to education.

According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, African-American students are subject to exclusionary discipline (such as suspensions or expulsions) at higher rates than white students. The data show similar patterns for other groups: for example, boys are suspended more often than girls, as are students with disabilities when compared to students without disabilities. It was in response to this data that the prior administration issued a Dear Colleague Letter, or federal guidance, to states and school districts instructing them to adopt new approaches to school discipline so as to ensure that these students are not disproportionately impacted. Many in the education community cheered this guidance as a positive step.

But since the guidance was released, many educators, parents and students have raised concerns that schools have actually become less safe by restricting teachers’ and administrators’ ability to maintain order in their classrooms. They claim that the guidance ignores the law and places statistics over students without addressing the behavior of individual students and how educators should respond and discipline students when necessary. They view the guidance as creating an unsafe environment that has harmed learning.

That’s why earlier this week the Department hosted two listening sessions about the 2014 guidance. We brought in teachers, parents, students, administrators, researchers, advocates and union representatives to hear their varying views on whether the guidance should be kept as is, amended or rescinded.

We heard powerful testimony from many individuals. One teacher from Massachusetts told us about the economically distressed community in which she teaches, and how out-of-school suspensions could put students in a dangerous environment with little oversight. A school district representative from Illinois described how implementation of social-emotional learning practices in her district helped students learn to settle their differences without violence, and helped foster a nurturing school environment, which they may not experience at home.

Yet one teacher from North Carolina described how the district’s change in discipline policies imposed severe constraints on teachers’ abilities to control their classrooms. Order in the classroom quickly deteriorated, making it impossible for students to learn. This teacher noted that the unsafe climate in schools caused many teachers to leave the profession in the last few years, further hurting students’ ability to learn and grow.

Another teacher from New York described how students would regularly threaten their peers and teachers, but school administrators would not allow students to be disciplined, citing the need to reduce the number of suspensions. A former administrator from California told us that after her district changed its discipline policies, schools would send kids home informally to avoid impacting the schools’ suspension rates.

These listening sessions made clear that while progress is being made for some students and educators, the situation for others has worsened. We as a country cannot be satisfied until all students have access to a safe and nurturing learning environment where they can grow and thrive. As a country, we must honor that promise to our nation’s students.

Betsy DeVos is the U.S. Secretary of Education

The Pathway to Teaching: “Get Involved, Ask Questions”

I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher, partly because I grew up surrounded by teachers. I learned to respect and admire their valuable work and impact on students. For many students my age, the idea of becoming a teacher brings back bad memories from their own school experiences.

Even though I had some rough times during my K–12 education, I believe that I can learn from these experiences and become a teacher who will speak for students who had the same problems that I did as a child. While I think teaching is an extremely rewarding and important profession, I have met some people who look down upon my decision to become a teacher, because they think I can do more than “just teach.” I never believed there was such thing as “just teach,” for teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and I am lucky enough to have supportive friends and family who feel the same way.

I began thinking seriously about my career as a teacher when I started college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where I am now a senior pursuing a Spanish major and my licensure to teach Spanish in secondary schools. At UMass Amherst, I am grateful that I became close with my professors and teaching assistants. In fact, one of them helped me get an internship working with English language learner students at a local middle school. This experience was amazing, because it allowed me to use what I had learned in my classes and gave me the chance to connect with students and learn about their lives.

A particular incident during this internship really confirmed my love for teaching. I was introduced to a student from Colombia with limited English proficiency, and his teacher explained to me that he had been struggling with algebra. After sitting with the student and showing him how to solve a two-step equation, he told me that for the first time he actually understood what was going on in the classroom. I was touched that I was capable of impacting this student’s life and helping him adjust to school in the U.S.

My pathway to becoming a classroom teacher has not been easy. My parents and I have had many arguments trying to understand the workings of college, but as a first-generation college student, I found that many schools have resources to help students succeed. Two resources that I found particularly beneficial were the financial aid office, and learning communities, where you can work and connect with students who have similar interests and academic goals.  Additionally, during my first year I often connected with my resident advisor and peer mentor to ask about academics and upcoming events. I am grateful to attend a college that helped me every step of the way.

I look forward to becoming a teacher and providing support for my students, especially when I can empathize with what they are going through. I’m excited about being able to help students make successful transitions from high school to their post-high school lives and to support them the same way my teachers supported me.

If I could give advice to students going into college, regardless of the type of school or discipline they are pursuing, I would say this: Get involved; do not be afraid to ask questions; and think about how you can make a change in this world. Doing these things has helped me tremendously in preparing for my career and gaining confidence in my choice to become a teacher.

Evan Greenwald is a college senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was a summer 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

A Different Route to Success: First, Community College; Then a Four-Year University

As a young Latina in middle school witnessing my parents’ financial struggle, I knew I wanted to attend a four-year university right after high school graduation. Ever since migrating from Mexico 25 years ago, my father has worked in the agriculture fields and my mom at Wendy’s. Although my parents struggled to provide food and pay bills, they never failed to give love and support. Therefore, I wanted to repay them by going straight to a four-year university and having a better future.

In high school, I decided to become a well-rounded student so I could get into a four-year university. I was involved in various student organizations and activities, such as tennis, Interact Club, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and a Christian -based club. I even held leadership positions in high school, such as associated student vice president and Art Club president. I not only took my extracurricular activities seriously, but also my academics. I was enrolled in an honors program, took Advanced Placement courses, and was a dual-enrollment student at Taft College, which was close to my California home. When my junior year came, I took the ACT and SAT countless times, but I was not able to improve my scores since I was not a good test taker. Although that was a barrier for me, I still had faith that I would get accepted into a four-year university of my choice.

As a senior, I was accepted into two colleges out of 14 where I applied. I was devastated because I was attached to this expectation that I was going to attend a four-year university outside of my community. I decided to attend Taft College because I was familiar with the faculty and the success it had with transferring students to four-year colleges. Although I was disappointed, there was a particular scholarship that restored my faith: the Holmes Family Education and Training Foundation scholarship.

In the weeks following my decision to attend Taft, I met up with my Holmes Family scholarship mentor named Cindy Patterson. I explained to her everything that had happened, and she gave me this piece of advice: “God made you stay in your community for a reason. He will not tell you why right now, but once you have graduated from Taft College. Have faith.” Of course, I was at a point where I was questioning life, so it was difficult for me to understand what she was trying to tell me. Therefore, during my first year I just wanted to leave college because I had worked so hard in high school and was frustrated that I was not able to fulfill my dream of going to a four-year university of my choice.

As a Taft College freshman, my mentality was “go big or go home.” I was determined to make it to the college of my choice. So I decided that the University of Southern California would be my goal. I became occupied with planning how I would get there, and how my life would be attending USC. As a result, I applied as an incoming sophomore, not knowing that USC would still be looking at my ACT and SAT scores. Unfortunately, I was not offered admission. Once again, I was left with questioning my purpose and direction. Coming into my sophomore year, I reevaluated my mindset. Looking back at the advice my mentor gave me, I decided to give my burdens to God and say, “If I was meant to stay to keep on helping my community, let it be, and I’ll continue with my education locally.” I began appreciating life and my community. Once the time came to apply again as a transfer student, I applied to 14 schools. At the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted to my top choices: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine University, California State University, San Luis Obispo, and UC- Irvine.

I chose to transfer to the University of Southern California. When I got there, I decided to keep the mindset I had developed in community college. I studied public policy with an emphasis on nonprofits and social innovation. I chose this major because it would allow me to learn more about how to help under-resourced communities become successful. At USC, I am part of Students for Education Reform (president), Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, and Hermanas Unidas. Today, I am not only a senior, but I am also studying for a master’s of public administration degree at USC through their Progressive Degree Program. It allows me to begin graduate school work at the same time I am finishing requirements for my bachelor’s degree.

I have learned that a community college can give folks experiences and prepare them for different options. The transfer process was similar to what I went through in high school when I applied to colleges. The four-year colleges expect you to do very well academically and outside of the classroom. The only difference is that after completing a certain number of units, the colleges no longer look at your SAT/ACT scores. Even though I took my academics seriously, I took helping my community just as seriously. At my community college, I created a program called College is Out There, which helps seventh- through 12th-graders from Lost Hills, California, on college readiness. I also worked for groups like Wonderful Education and Youth 2 Leaders Education Foundation, and I was active in migrant education issues. Looking back, I believe I was meant to stay at my community college so I could learn about how to help small communities. I applied that knowledge later at USC when I begin helping larger cities with their higher education.

Ultimately, I helped the students of Kern County, California, set their goals as high as they possibly could, and if life did not go their way, then to build the tenacity to keep fighting on like I did. This approach helped me become the executive intern for the co-founder of the Ednovate charter schools in Los Angeles, and a summer intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in Washington, D.C. I have also become a prime example of what you are able to achieve, no matter how many times life knocks you down; as long as you have the hunger to succeed, you will do anything to keep going.

At the end of the day, I have to thank my parents, who decided to come to the United States from Mexico so our family could have a better future. From my triumphs to my disappointments, my parents have always received me with open arms. They remind me every day that if God is for us, who can be against us? Therefore, I keep fighting on.

Roxanna Barboza is a senior at the University of Southern California. She was a 2017 Summer Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Reflections on a Future in Education

As I reflect on my experience as a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) intern, I cannot help but think about all the people in my life — in particular my mother — who have  supported me in all the decisions I have made to this point in my young career. Not in my wildest dreams could I have pictured myself in this position.

Without a doubt, the past few months have been a unique time to be in the country’s capital. Through the countless interactions I have had with staff, I have noticed an underlying theme of optimism and compassion for public education. I have learned a lot in this short period of time, and the exposure to many new people and ideas has reinvigorated my desire to teach. Today, approximately a quarter of K–12 public school students in the United States are Hispanic, yet only 8 percent of the teacher workforce is Hispanic, and only 2 percent are Latino males. There is a need for more teachers of color. At the Initiative, strides have been made to highlight the experiences of Latino educators in our K–12 public schools through the #LatinosTeach campaign. Reading through their stories and journeys was very motivating for me.

I realized early on in my college career that education was a subject I felt strongly about. I also knew through my experiences that, unfortunately for many Latino students seeking to go to college, the quality of education they receive in their neighborhoods could prevent them from attending. Through my support system and the preparation I received, I successfully passed my credentialing exams for multiple-subject, Spanish dual-immersion. This school year is my first as a teacher through Teach for America at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California, just a few blocks away from my home. Every year until high school, I recall waking up my siblings on summer mornings to grab free breakfast at Bayview. Francis, the lunch lady, had known us over the years and would always stuff our backpacks with extra lunches to take home. This simple gesture would cultivate my sense of community, and the idea of giving back.

To further my passion for drawing more Latino males into teaching, I plan to attend graduate school in education leadership. Professor Arnetha Ball at Stanford University describes the notion of the “knowing-doing gap” in education research as the difficulty the researchers face in efficiently applying findings to practice. Researchers have found that students of color accumulate more academic benefits from same-race teachers, or when teachers represent and are sensitive to all racial backgrounds. With this in mind, I want be a research activist in education policy and take the necessary steps to apply research to policy, with hopes that I can draw more Latino males into teaching positions.

During my time at the Initiative, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and I came across a simple yet powerful quote: “Teach the children the truth.” I reflected on the history that I was taught about my Mexican culture and could not recall anything, only the bits my mother and college professors had recounted. I want my own children to develop a richer understanding of their culture; I believe it is crucial for our children to know their roots and be able to navigate this world with a developed cultural identity. I intend to do that as a cultural worker and change agent in my community and many others like it.

Enrique Cornejo is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine and an elementary school teacher. He was a a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

A Master’s Degree in Business Administration: Support for a Budding Entrepreneur

The first person to tell me it was worthwhile for an entrepreneur to get a master’s degree in business administration was the founder of a $50 million education company. I don’t remember why he said it was worth it; I just remember that he said it was. I had no idea just how important that statement would be to me five years later, as I have graduated from my MBA program at The George Washington University (GW) School of Business, and have launched my own company, Pocket Palette, a single-use, full-face makeup kit for the woman on the go.

I always knew entrepreneurship was a long-term goal of mine, but I had different plans for my first job out of graduate school. When I started my MBA program at GW, I intended to become a brand manager. I joined the marketing club, signed up for a marketing consulting project with the Ferrero Group, and landed an internship for an insurance company in its marketing department. I was ready to become a marketing professional. And that was only in my first semester.

I switched gears in January of my second semester when I “pitched” my product to classmates for the first time. This idea started in the bathroom at the business school, when I overheard women getting ready for interviews talking about how much they hated having to carry their makeup to school. I asked them if they would use a makeup kit that they could throw away after they were done. They thought my idea was awesome and they encouraged me to patent and pursue it.

And my entrepreneurship journey began. During my MBA program, I participated in workshops, competitions, and networking events. Through these experiences, I learned how to negotiate, balance an income statement, and write a business plan. I learned about international trade, managerial finance, and operations.

Yes, these are all things I could have learned online for free, but by participating in an MBA on-site program, I did it alongside military officers, teachers, financial analysts, founders, engineers, and others. I learned that classmates in my MBA program were the biggest source of education I could have asked for. They challenged and encouraged me to pursue my business, and with all of their support, I entered GW’s New Venture Competition and placed fourth out of 116 teams. I won $7,500 in cash, and over $15,000 in in-kind prizes, all of which are dedicated to launching Pocket Palette.

I am only a few months out of school, and as of right now, I am thankful I made the decision to get my MBA. If I had to do it over again, knowing now that I would go into business for myself, I am 100 percent sure that I would still do it.

Lynda Peralta received her Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics