HISPA Leadership Workshop Series connects NJ Governor’s Hispanic Fellows with role models who “inspire us to pursue our dreams”

Gabriela Monje left her home in Peru at age 12 and immigrated to the United States. She remembers struggling to learn English, not doing well in school, and having difficulty making new friends; but in the face of these problems Gabriela’s story is one of inspiration. She now speaks English fluently and is a junior at Rutgers University.


Gabriela recently shared her personal story along with 20 other participants in the 2014 Governor’s Hispanic Fellows Program. Overseen by the New Jersey Department of State’s Center for Hispanic Policy, Research and Development (CHPRD), the competitive fellowship program is a partnership with the CHPRD Foundation. The Foundation selects the fellows from among hundreds of applicants. Most of the students are the first in their families to attend college.“The Governor’s Hispanic Fellows Program has been a life-changing experience,” said Monje. “Every week we met professionals who have overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. The fellows are fortunate because we learned about the skills needed to work in various fields and we also heard personal stories that inspire us to pursue our dreams.”

Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement (HISPA), the nonprofit organization that connects Hispanic role models and middle school students, develops and manages the rigorous eight-week HISPA Leadership Workshop Series curriculum for the fellows program. Ivonne Díaz-Claisse, PhD., president and founder of HISPA, says she is confident the fellows will become exceptional leaders in their communities.
“I am personally inspired by these amazing young men and young women. The fellows have big dreams for their lives and for our country. They are America’s future leaders,” said Díaz-Claisse. “The HISPA Leadership Workshop Series is an important step in their journey because it validates their dreams. The Role Models’ stories show them a path toward accomplishing their goals and, even more importantly, inspire the fellows to reach even higher.”
One day each week, the fellows participate in intensive training sessions to cultivate and develop leadership skills. They are introduced to potential careers in public service, government, nonprofits and the private sector. The students are invited to various businesses and institutions throughout New Jersey, e.g., Princeton University, AT&T Labs, AT&T, PSE&G, Seton Hall University, The New Jersey State Museum, and Educational Testing Service. Other supporters of the Fellows Program are Wells Fargo and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Leaders and professionals in diverse fields teach the students about public speaking, networking, team collaboration, communication and other 21st Century career skills.
President Obama nominated Wilfredo Ferrer to be the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in July of 2010. He spoke to the fellows by videoconference about his journey as a child growing up in Miami from humble circumstances to become a United States Attorney.
Antonio R. Flores, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer, of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). The national organization represents more than 400 colleges and universities that collectively serve two-thirds of the more than 3 million Hispanic students in U.S. higher education across 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Flores encouraged the students to continue their education even beyond their undergraduate degrees.
Jorge L. Cárdenas, vice president of asset management and centralized services at PSE&G, is a HISPA role model. He shared his story about moving up in corporate America, and the importance of giving back to your community. He was named a member of the March of Dimes board of directors for New Jersey in 2007 and was state board vice chairman from 2009 to 2011.
The fellows heard about STEM careers from Professor José L. López, Ph.D., who teaches at Seton Hall University. He has conducted extensive research in plasma physics, particularly in the subfield of micro plasmas, where he is recognized as an international expert.
Kim Guadagno is New Jersey’s first Lieutenant Governor. She is a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the District of New Jersey. She also served as Assistant New Jersey Attorney General. In 2007, she was elected the 75th Sheriff of Monmouth County and was the first woman to serve in the post. As she shared her story, Guadagno told the students “never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”
Yvette Donado, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer at ETS and HISPA board member, spoke to the fellows about the importance of setting high goals and continuing their education. She told the students that they should remember to tell their stories and urged them to give back once they have achieved success.
Monje was a HISPA intern during the fellows program, and she originally wanted to work for a non-profit when she finished college. She still has that goal, but after completing the fellows program she also wants to run for elective office. “I always knew I wanted to help people achieve their dreams, and through the fellow programs I have been informed about different careers – from HISPA inspiring students to U.S. attorneys representing the public. I have learned I can do both. The journey never stops.”
The participants of the 2014 Governor’s Hispanic Fellows Program graduated on Friday, July 25 at the New Jersey State Museum. “I can’t wait to see what this talented group accomplishes,” said Díaz-Claisse. “And I hope they will return some day as Role Models, to inspire future students to work hard to pursue their dreams.”