More than 100 Latino leaders and others from the area interested in Latino affairs converged at Conant Hall in late April for the 8th Annual Mercer County Latino Vision Council-Hispanics Inspiring Students' Performance and Achievement (HISPA) Leadership Conference.
The conference began with welcome remarks by Ely Mateo, Assistant Vice President of United Way of Greater Mercer County, and Ana Berdecia, Chairperson of the United Way Vision Council. Berdecia explained how and why the Vision Council was created and the scope of its programs. HISPA President Ivonne Díaz-Claisse spoke to the synergies that bind both organization and thanked ETS for its support. "We are also grateful," she added, "that ETS employee volunteers serve as role models for middle school students in Mercer County."
Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President of People, Process and Communications Yvette Donado, a board member of both organizations, welcomed attendees. She, asked attendees to reflect on three words found in names of both organizations: Vision, because it implies aspirations; council, because it means concerted effort; and inspire, because "that is what we all must do." She also spoke about ETS's deep commitment to apply its expertise to develop improved English learner (EL or ELL) assessments, instruction and teacher preparedness.
Debra Joy Pérez, Vice President for Research at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, gave the principal address, presenting exhaustive data on the Hispanic population nationwide and in New Jersey in particular. Diversity, she said, must be "in the room" to benefit from diverse ideas. She continued with an analysis of health, education and employment disparities, and said that the "challenges can be addressed through effective leadership and advocacy."
Born and raised in Trenton, Pérez described how when meeting someone we routinely ask "what do you do?" But the key question, she insisted, is "not what you do, but why you do it. And each of you should ask yourselves why you do what you do, particularly in terms of serving others."
From left to right, Mateo, Díaz-Claisse, Cárdenas and Donado.
Responding to her remarks, Jorge Cárdenas, Vice President for Gas Delivery at PSEG, drew on his experience as a corporate executive and community activist who contributes in various ways to address needs in the community. Among other things, he is a member of the board of the New Jersey March of Dimes. "The keys for redressing disparities in the Latino community are good health, education, access to information and leadership," he said.
Cárdenas also mentioned that ETS Scholarship & Recognition Programs recently designed and now manage a new PSEG Scholars Program for engaging students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, specifically energy engineering occupations.
Following the opening address and the response, participants joined one of three workshops that continued into the afternoon. One workshop of particular interest to ETS was that on English learners (ELs or ELLs). Mikyung Kim Wolf, Research Scientist in Research & Development, presented a portrait of current research that is informing the development of new assessments for ELs.
Abraham López, Director of Hispanic Affairs in the Office of the Governor, also spoke of EL needs and programs. He said that in a generation or so, current trends indicate that Hispanics, now about 18 percent of the state's population, will constitute one-third of the population of New Jersey. "We must marshal our resources to ensure that all are productive members of our communities," he said.
Other workshops focused on succeeding as leaders for change, empowering people as leaders for change, and strategies for improving our intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual health.
"Our affiliation with the United Way and HISPA helps us understand and respond to these changes," says Donado. "This conference was particularly valuable in building and strengthening ties and identifying community needs that affect all of us."
In addition to ETS, conference sponsors and exhibitors included PNC Financial Services Group, PSEG, Rider University and Thomas Edison State College.