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Fifty More Hispanic Professionals Say ‘Presente!’ as HISPA Role Model Program Kicks Off Second Year Bringing Total to 200

FREEHOLD, NJ – The HISPA Role Model program, a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing professional Hispanic role models for young students, started off its second year with 50 new volunteers, which allows the program to substantially expand its reach.

HISPA, which had set a recruitment goal of 50 more volunteers for last month’s second-year kick-off and recruiting event, now has 200 role models to provide support to educational programs across New Jersey, announced Dr. Ivonne Diaz-Claisse, president of HISPA, which stands for Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement. The majority of the role models are in the STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

In its first year, members of HISPA’S Role Model Bureau have shared their life stories – with an emphasis on educational achievements and professional accomplishments – during visits with more than 2000 students in numerous cities including New Brunswick, Paterson, West New York, Summit, Red Bank, Freehold, Passaic, Elizabeth, Union City and Perth Amboy.
“HISPA’s premise is a simple one: That by sharing our stories we can reach students who don’t think they have the capacity or the ability to attain higher education,” said Dr. Diaz-Claisse. “Our experience during the first year demonstrates that our program works and that is why we urge every Hispanic professional to say ‘presente’ and join us in making a difference.”

The Oct. 22 HISPA event’s theme was “Latinos Ahora: The Time to Inspire Our Youth is Now!” Role models, sponsors and other supporters who attended heard Summit High School administrators and students provide feedback about the HISPA visits. The event at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation was hosted by the Novartis Hispanic Leadership Network (HLN).
“You are an inspiration to us,” said one male student, who spoke about the impact of having Hispanic professionals share their stories. “You’re telling us ‘we can do something if we try.’”
Another student said many students come from other countries and the role models were wonderful examples that anything was possible, or as she put it, “si se puede.” She concluded, “Someday we will be like you.”

Zena Ricks, speaking on behalf of Novartis HLN, whose members are among the latest volunteers, told the group that the decision to sponsor the HISPA event and become involved in the role model efforts was in line with the company’s mission to reach out to the Hispanic community. She also noted HLN wanted to play an active role in addressing the educational attainment gaps for Hispanics.


“We look forward to a really strong collaborative effort going forward,” said Ricks. In addition to signing up its members as role models, Novartis HLN also presented Dr. Diaz-Claisse with a $5,000 check.

Mayra Caceres, on behalf of AT&T’s HACEMOS, which has been involved with HISPA since its October 2008 launch, also presented HISPA with a check for $5,000.

Dr. Diaz-Claisse announced at the event that HISPA’s annual fundraiser will be a Three Kings Banquet on Jan. 14, 2010, at Seabra’s Amory in Perth Amboy. For sponsorship opportunities, the contact is Nancy Zunino, 732-513-8854, nzunino17@comcast.net. For tickets, the contact is Mildred Medina, 732-826-0415, mmedina@hispa.org.


The keynote speaker for this year’s HISPA kick-off and recruiting event was Virginia Lazala, Vice President and Legal Section head for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
“I have mentored. I have been a mentee,” said Lazala whose family emigrated from the Dominican Republic, and who described “Perry Mason” as her role model. “It’s very important to give back and reach back and bring people along. We all need to mentor and give as role models and not let the youth of today have ‘Perry Mason’ as a role model.” HISPA’s role models also spoke about their own experiences.

“We didn’t know the impact it was going to have,” said Brigitte Gonzalez, of the New Jersey Chapter of National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA). “It’s very rewarding. You really see that you are making a difference.”
“It’s been a gift for me to share my story with the children,” said Yolanda Baker, of Chubb Hispanic/Latino Employee Network (CHLEN).

In addition to the visits with more than 2,000 students during its first year, HISPA also held its first HISPA Youth Conference in June 2009 at Princeton University. The event drew 110 students, mostly Hispanic, from Red Bank Middle School; The Great School #5, Paterson; William C. McGinnis School, Perth Amboy; and New Brunswick Middle School. About 50 HISPA volunteers took part including Princeton University professors and representatives from AT&T HACEMOS; Merck Hispanic Organization (MHO); PACTO, a Princeton area organization for Hispanic professionals; and Latino Princetonians.

On a national level, HISPA has been involved in educational programs in San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California, as well as a youth conference in Atlanta, Georgia. HISPA will also take part in an upcoming youth conference in Connecticut.
Organizations and individuals who joined HISPA’s efforts in the past year include: Employee Resources Groups: AT&T – HACEMOS; Merck Hispanic Organization (MHO); PSE&G – ADELANTE; Chubb Hispanic and Latino Employee Network (CHLEN); Microsoft – HOLA; Johnson & Johnson – Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA); Professional Organizations: National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) – NJ Chapter; Latinos in Information Science and Technology Association (LISTA) – NJ and NY Chapters; U.S. Hispanic Advocacy Association (USHAA); Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR); and Government: Perth Amboy (NJ) Mayor Wilda Diaz; Richard Cañas, Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness; Monmouth County (NJ) Prosecutor Luis Valentin; and First Assistant Attorney General Ricardo Solano Jr. (NJ).
Dr. Diaz-Claisse also recently welcomed three new members of HISPA’s leadership team. Robert Martinez, Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Princeton University, and Peter Negroni, Vice President of Relationship Development at the College Board, joined the HISPA Board. Jorge Escobar, Manager of Administration for the Office of Development at Princeton University, joined the Advisory Board.

Dr. Diaz-Claisse’s professional background includes 10 years with AT&T Labs. The New Jersey resident holds a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico, a Masters in engineering from Cornell University, a Masters in mathematics from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Arizona State University.

HISPA’s goals are:
· To reduce the drop-out rates by targeting middle schools students and emphasizing the importance of higher education in each role model presentation.
· To further develop strategic alliances with employee resource groups, professional organizations and alumni networks in order to select, recruit and support a pool of role models.
· To become a one-stop resource that provides access to thousands of professional Hispanic role models willing to share their motivational stories on an ongoing basis to schools and community-based educational programs.
· To support and expand existing community-based educational programs with similar goals that have an existing need for a Hispanic pool of role models.
For more information, contact francisco@hispa.org and visit www.hispa.org. Media representatives may contact Ivette Mendez at imendezandco@comcast.net, or call 973.518.1537.