Volunteer Spotlight: Karen Siles, A Visionary Board Member

IMG_3185Take a moment to learn about our motivating and passionate Vice President who serves as an advocate for STEM education and a role model for girls that aspire to be a part of the tech industry.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself – what is your educational background? what do you like to do on your free time? 

A: Born and raised in Cochabamba Bolivia, my parents migrated to America when I was 15 and moved to Northern VA. I pursued a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from George Mason University and in my years at GMU discovered a passion for community service through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineer (SHPE). Post college I got a software engineering offer from IBM Corporation at the Austin TX site. I have been in Austin for the past 8 years and currently serve as a Project Manager for IBM Cloud Division. Currently I serve as the Vice-President for Latinitas Inc. and on the board of SHPE Austin Professional and LaunchPad the center.

Q: What is your current job position? Describe a few of your job responsibilities.

A: I have held various job roles at IBM from a software developer to currently a project manager for IBM Cloud. Earlier this year I was in charge of the open source projects for the cloud platform.  For the past couple of weeks I have been managing the security project for IBM Public Cloud.  As a project manager I need to ensure that our development projects are on track by discussing daily progress daily from developers.

Q: How long have you been a board member for Latinitas and what motivated you to do so?

A: I have been a board member for the past 1.5 years and I was motivated to be a member after speaking with Laura Donelly. Laura has so much passion for this organization and her passion is contagious to everyone around. Laura told me about their inaugural Code Chica conference, I loved the idea of introducing young girls to technology and coding. Encouraging youth to go in STEM fields is my personal passion and I admire this organization for everything they do. Serving this organization has been a great experience so far and I am very excited about the work and ideas we have this year.

Q: What advice would you give to young Latina girls who aspire to be a part of the technology industry?

A: In the next couple of years there will be an influx in the job market for the technology industry. There will be close to 10,000 jobs available for technology careers in the Austin area. Unfortunately the rate of job needs does not equal the rate of graduating women in technology, let alone Latinas.  As a female Latina engineer, pursuing an engineering or technology degree was the best decision I ever made. The technology you get to work with is truly amazing, you are changing people’s life through technology. We need to increase the percentage of Latina’s in technology from single digits to double digits. If our young latinitas want to work on cutting edge technology and impacting lives through technology they should aspire to get into the technology industry.

Staff Spotlight: Jasmine Villa, Editor Behind the Scenes

Meet our amazing Editor who helps amplify the voices of young Latinas by serving as a role model, mentor and writing coach for our Latinitas. 

Q: How long have you been working with Latinitas and what motivated you to apply at this particular organization?

A: I’ve been working with Latinitas for 4 years. My academic interests in intercultural rhetoric, community involvement, literacy, and educational discourse led to volunteering and joining the Latinitas team in 2012. I love the organization, and I am simply in awe and always inspired by the work ethic, dedication, and passion the Latinitas staff have for the community. While I had professional and academic interests in mind, I was motivated to apply to Latinitas because of the environment. Everyone is supportive, and they really do treat you like familia.

Q: What are some of your job responsibilities?

A: I work collaboratively with the staff and interns in order to empower the awesome chicas in our writing programs. I assist with the workflow of the magazine, similar to the Editor-in-Chief/Managing Editor duties, like assigning and editing content for Latinitas Magazine, creating a publishing calendar, and I oversee and guide most of the writers for Latinitas Magazine. In addition, I promote the Youth Editorial Advisory Board (YEAB), help with recruitment and marketing for YEAB, and create content for the YEAB. Occasionally, I will assist with the creation and editing of content for the El Paso office and I assist with social media when I can. In addition, I moderate MyLatinitas.com and provide feedback to written pieces when needed. We are a small organization, but I’m always eager to help wherever and whenever they need me.

Q: Describe your educational and career background prior to working with Latinitas?

A: I worked customer service jobs and as a Properties Designer/Manager prior to working with Latinitas. My career shifted when I began graduate school in 2012.

After concurrently completing a BA in English and American Literature with a minor in Professional Writing and Rhetoric and a BA in Chicano Studies in 2011, I wanted to explore opportunities that would supplement an alt-ac career during graduate school. From 2012 – 2014, I worked with Latinitas while pursuing a MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies and while working as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Texas at El Paso. My educational background and interest in community engagement intersect, which has led me to pursue a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. I work as an Assistant Instructor, and I am an advocate of community engagement within my classroom.

Q: Describe a moment or challenge that you believe has prepared you for your current career as an Editor.

A: When you’re juggling being a full-time graduate student, teaching 1-2 classes by yourself, and working part-time, it can be overwhelming. The workload eventually takes its toll, which can affect your emotional and physical state. Juggling multiple roles and tasks has taught me the value of self-care and time management and organizational skills.

Q: What is your advice to young Latinas who aspire to be editors?

A: As an editor, you need compassion and empathy for the struggles writers face. Everyone has different writing styles, skills, and ideas, and, as an editor, you need to be aware of them and find ways for writers to enhance a strength they didn’t know they had.

Don’t compare yourself and self-worth to other writers. There’s always going to be someone whose writing and skills are better than yours. There’s only one you, and what YOU have to say: your ideas, writing, etc. are more valuable than you think. What YOU have to say/think IS important. Don’t be afraid to share that voice. Our community needs it.

Q: What do you like to do on your free time?

A: I have a hectic schedule due to being a full-time PhD student (2nd year), Assistant Instructor at the University of Texas at El Paso, and working with Latinitas, so I try to spend my free time doing things that are not associated with school and/or work related. I need a day where I’m not glued to my laptop, book, or scholarly articles. If you want to be technical, I travel frequently, catch up on movies and tv shows (current favorites are Jane the Virgin and Game of Thrones), and spend time with loved ones (family and friends).

Intern Spotlight: Claudia Reyes

Role: Editorial Intern
College: Williams College, Sophomore
Why did you join Latinitas? I used to participate with Latinitas when I was younger. As a first generation Latina myself, I have found my experience as a Latina youth to be vastly different than others. I hope that through my internship with Latinitas I can better understand not only how other Latina youth identities are formed but also my own. I would like to spend my Winter Study interning with Latinitas because I believe it is an opportunity for active intellectual exploration on Latina/o identities and community. I also have a growing interest in working with youth and remember how much I valued having an older Latina to look up to when I was younger.

Board Spotlight: Liza Rodriguez

Liza Rodriguez
The Latinitas team would like to thank Liza Rodriguez for her dedication as a member of our board of directors. She serves as the Video Coordinator at UTEP and has over 15 years of experience working in film, television and commercials. Liza served as a guest speaker for our teen leaders by sharing her experience in the film and television industry. She is currently the committee co-chair for our Healthy Chica Conference and is excited to encourage girls to grow health, confident and strong. Liza has a passion for helping girls boost their self-esteem and self worth.
She advises girls to:“accept who you are and use that for your advantage. That will lead to attaining a higher education and going after more opportunities.” She was motivated to become a part of Latinitas because of her desire to be a role model and share her experience with younger girls. “I want to be a role model to young women and let them know anything is possible, no matter what zip code you come from or the color of your skin. Latinitas is a great avenue to help in the initiatives you already have and bring some new ideas to the table.”  

Partner Spotlight: My Muse Dolls

Special thanks to Jullin Egbuji for being a Business Chica guest speaker and sharing her inspirational story of starting a new doll line. My Muse Dolls helped sponsor our Business Venture Challenge at the Business Chica Conference. My Muse is a socially-minded children’s company that designs, manufactures, and distributes customizable 18-inch multicultural dolls. Their co-founder Jullin Egbuji was able to attend the conference to inspire our participants with her story of seeing a need in the marketplace for a line of diverse dolls that more girls could relate to. She got together with a group of female business leaders to fill this need with a new line of inspiring custom-made dolls. Thanks to sponsors like My Muse Dolls, our first place team was able to win tablets and we had numerous door prizes for our creative business chicas!

Lucero Estrella: Millennials Rock!

The nature of Latinitas brings volunteers to our doors as old as 70 and as young as high school, but when young people do volunteer we get extra luceroexcited. That kind of initiative is unique, especially for a college freshman just getting her bearings in Austin, TX.  Lucero Estrella came to Latinitas Austin in the Fall of 2014 looking to continue a thread of social justice advocacy and mentoring she started living in Brownsville, TX where she worked with youth tutoring and instilling cultural pride through a city program.  She took to leading a Latinitas club like a mariachi to tight decorative pants and mentored 20 girls at Zavala Elementary last year. This past summer, she was back committed for 4 weeks of leadership and currently she is our facilitator on site at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin teaching families how to use digital technology to record memories, goal set, create a permanent resume and more.  Grateful for volunteers like Lucero – we wanted to get to know her a little better and asked  her about herself.

Q: Tell us a little about your path to Latinitas, volunteering in Brownsville and your dedication to cultural pride.
A. Whether it was through church or the National Honor Society, I’ve always enjoyed spending time giving back to the community.  Since I had always been involved in volunteering back in Brownsville, I decided to find a place in Austin where I could continue giving back.  Since I was going to start my first year at UT Austin with a major in Mexican American Studies, I decided to look for an organization where I could share my passion for Mexican American history with others.  As soon as I heard about Latinitas and their mission to empower young Latinas, I decided to submit my volunteer application, which was over a year ago and I am extremely glad I made that decision.
Q: Tell us about the scholarship you received and how it led you to volunteering this summer
A” This past April I received the Rapoport Service Scholarship, which was awarded to only 14 freshmen in the College of Liberal Arts.  Recipients of this scholarship receive a $10,000 scholarship for three years and a new Macbook laptop.  In addition, students are required to perform 200 hours of community service for three summers, complete a Bridging Disciplines Program certificate, and take two courses along other recipients.  This summer I fulfilled the required 200 hours of community service by volunteering at the Latinitas summer camp.
Q: What was your one “I heart Latinitas” take away from summer camp – was there a particular girl, activity, field trip that stood out?
A: I loved the activity where the girls created their own app and filmed a commercial for it.  It was amazing to see all the creative ideas the girls had when it came to designing their apps and coming up with a way to present it to an audience.  I’m always awed by the work that the girls create because it shows their potential to do other amazing things in media and technology.
Q: Why do you think an organization like Latinitas is important
A: I believe that exposing girls different opportunities available to them through media and technology while reminding them of their culture and background will empower them to go into fields where Latinas are underrepresented.  Latinitas is helping girls learn new things each day about media and technology that will not only shape their career paths but also make them aware of their community.  There is a mutual learning relationship between the girls and the volunteers which makes working for Latinitas fun and inspirational.
Your major: Double majoring in Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and Japanese
In 10 years you will be… traveling the world or working as a teacher.
What you do for fun: I enjoy having movie nights with my friends.

Boris Pilev: The Creative Adult is the Child Who Survived

Boris Pilev started helping Latinitas last year first with some great workshops on taking advantage of Google’s suite of free apps and then later providing strategy support for Latinitas’ alumni.  His enthusiasm for matching his technology savvy with non-profit need is so appreciated by Latinitas staff, board and program participants. We asked him a little bit about himself and what he liked about volunteering at Latinitas.boris

Q: What do you like about Google’s outreach programs to community?

​A: Being able to help in the communities where we work and live has so much impact because I am able to see the changes in front of my eyes. Austin is a special place and I am still in love with the community here.

Q: Talk about your origin and how that relates to helping a group like Latinitas –so focused on culture.

A: ​I was born and raised in Bulgaria, small country in Eastern Europe. My family immigrated to the US when I was in my last year in high school. Moving to central Illinois I found myself in predominately Latino neighborhood where most of my friends were Spanish speaking. This is how I started speaking Spanish, even before I learn to speak decent English. :)

I am fortunate to have lived in multiple different cultures – some widely different than the others but this to me is an incredible gift. I can relate to more people, I can find common language ( literally).

The moment we came to the Latinitas offices I felt taken back to the organizations in Urbana-Champaign, IL who helped my family – the vibe was the same. ​

​I consider myself lucky to be able to join forces and help with what I can – to me this is the simplest way to give back and I feel this is a big part of Latinitas’ culture. ​

Q: What kind of training did you have to work at Google?

A: ​I can speak of my personal background. I have undergraduate degree from University of Illinois in International Studies with minors in Anthropology and Spanish and Masters in HR Management, with added focus in European studies and Portuguese. When I finished, I joined Deloitte Consulting in their Human Capital consulting practice where I spent 2 years ​before joining Google as Recruiting Coordinator for Latin America.

Q: What do you do for fun?

​A: I am an avid photographer and I travel as much as I can (both are very complimentary). Experiencing new places and meeting new people is another form of education for me and I cannot get enough of it. My last voyage was to Perú this summer and I am already working on my next trip :)

Volunteer Spotlight: Business Chica Planning Team

The Latinitas team would like to thank our Business Chica planning team members.  Special thanks to our committee members who help in organizing our Business Chica conference with the aim of inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our planning team members help with event planning, coordinating the agenda, recruiting speakers, obtaining event donations, promoting the event, recruiting girls and helping plan a wonderful experience for our girls. Our team members share why they are passionate about giving back to the community and helping encourage girls to become leaders:

Mireya Macias
I would like to use my marketing and PR skills to help one of the most important and vulnerable groups of society- Hispanic young girls. I would like to share my experiences as an immigrant and mother of two young girls immigrants with them. I would like to share my advice with El Paso young Latinas about the importance of education and hard work in this country. I want to encourage them to pursue their goals.

Ileen Barreras
I enjoy helping people as much as I possibly can. I feel that it is important to expose our young women to great opportunities in the area of business. Education is the start of a great things to come for each and every one of them. I feel that our society does not emphasize the importance of education enough. We need to encourage our Latinitas that with education the sky is the limit. I can not stress the importance of education enough. I want to encourage girls to be involved in community events as much as possible and to surround themselves with positive people.

Christian Alexis Salas
I love the opportunity to impart some of my learning experiences with young girls to help them in their future.  Youth need mentors and role models. I enjoy mentoring teens because there is still so much they haven’t discovered about their gifts and talents.  I know I could learn from their childlike imagination! It’s fun to see them discover and develop their abilities. I want to encourage young leaders. Girls that love what they do, know how to do it and are willing to show others!

Intern Spotlight: Summer Multimedia Team

Special thanks to our talented interns:

Ariana Ortega

Video Production Intern
UTEP, Junior, Multimedia Journalism Major
“I like participating with Latinitas because it is local and I’m learning about the field it also involves helping young girls in various ways. My career goals are to graduate with a bachelors degree in Multimedia Journalism and continue on to work for a masters degree. Latinitas will help me reach my goals by serving as a stepping stone and a foundation to what my future may hold. Latinitas will help me see what side of multimedia journalism I’m more comfortable with. It will also serve as a window to view what could potentially be my ultimate career!”

Jackeline Gomez  

Multimedia Intern

UTEP, Senior, Media Advertising Major
“I think that Latinitas is important for young because it gives them a chance to step outside of their culture and look beyond the expectations that society places on them to realize their true potential through education.   What I like most about Latinitas is that there is a focus on empowerment through media and technology. This is because I think that it is important to have a space where Latinas are able to challenge discourse and the stereotypes that come along with being a woman or a Latina by making their mark in the media.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Anna Haro

Anna Haro is an outstanding role model for Latinitas. As one of the co-chairs for the Chica Power Fest, she has played a key role in hosting leadership workshops for our team members, recruiting speakers and helping coordinate our event logistics.

Anna is passionate about promoting leadership, civic engagement and education among local youth. “I have always loved to work with youth, and most importantly inspire and guide them to thrive within education choices and thus teach them about giving back to their community,” shared Anna.

She enjoys encouraging girls to break stereotypes and reach their full potential. “Textbooks, through images and vocabulary, have a deep impact on girls’ and boys’ attitudes over their career choices. I would like to break those gender stereotype career choices that these girls have learned that they need to follow,” she added.

She decided to join Latinitas because she wanted to “see participants gain knowledge about the opportunities education can offer them.”