Alumni Spotlight Series: Pamela J. Castelán

Pamela is the first alum to share how Latinitas inspired her and shaped her future as part of our Alumni Spotlight Series:


“I am Pamela J. Castelán, a first generation Mexican-American who was born in Michigan, but was transplanted into Texan soil at a very young age. I majored in advertising at Texas State University, and minored in German. (Latinitas actually inspired me to pursue advertising when I was 17 years old.) Right now I work as a freelance interpreter and a freelance graphic designer for Latinitas.
Something I have taken from my experience at Latinitas is that you’re much bigger than a statistic and so much more than a stereotype.”
Make sure to be on the look out for our next Alumni Spotlight! Latinitas is ready to keep introducing our talented alumni while giving them the spotlight they deserve.

Linnea May: Creative, Passionate & Tech-Savvy!

Latinitas is thankful to have a driven and admirable volunteer who is happy to share her passion for technology with young girls. Thank you for sharing your creativity and helping us empower young girls through tech, Linnea!linnea may

Q: What initially inspired you to volunteer with Latinitas?

A:  I was first introduced to Latinitas when we teamed up to host a series of workshops with the Housing Authority early this year, but I had so much fun I wanted to come back and work with them some more!

Q: Why do you think there should be more representation of women in tech?

A: I think guys do a good job at producing technology, but nothing compared to if there was a mix of men and women! Creativity requires a group of diverse people that vary in everything from their gender to their childhood background.

Q:  What would your advice be to young girls who want to explore STEM careers?

A:  I always thought being in STEM meant being a nerd cooped up all day doing boring calculations, but really it’s about applying your knowledge to create or discover something new. STEM isn’t some scary hard topic, it’s just what you make of it.

Q: Do you have a favorite tv show?

A: I’m tied- Gilmore Girls and Numb3rs.

Double the Impact: volunteers Kavya and Priya Ramamoorthy

On the prompting of their mom – an IBM engineer – Kavya and Priya Ramamoorthy began volunteeringpriyakavya at Latinitas years ago teaching lessons to Latinitas ages 9-18 in robotics, video game design, wearable tech and coding.  Both bound for college next year – they share their passion for helping the next generation find a love of tech, medicine and creation as they have:

You are graduating this year and going to college, what are you focusing on?

Kavya:Initially, I would like to work as a software developer at a company that focuses on big data to gain experience in the field. I love identifying patterns and would like to work for a company that translates these patterns into visual graphics. In the future I would like to branch out into social entrepreneurship and I hope to start my own business that creates technology to improve mental health.

Priya: As the doctor injected a shot, pricked the skin of my index finger, or stuck that mysterious light-emitting contraption near my opened mouth, I remember paying attention to the details in her movements: the way she pinched my shoulder fat before sticking in that shiny point, the way she massaged my finger just before drawing blood, the way she would systematically press my belly asking if it hurt. Unlike most children, going to the doctor’s office as a child filled me with excitement.  Although at that young age I never understood what my doctor was doing, there was something intriguing about the entire process and it was this curiosity in the examination room that first sparked my desire to work in medicine. My desire to become a doctor grew during my sophomore, junior, and senior year, when I took a health science sequence at my school; through these courses, I recognized my love for learning anatomy and physiology. Another aspect I love about the field is your ability to be a disease detective. Doctors must use the signs and symptoms of a patient and be a detective to determine a diagnosis

You have worked with a cohort of Latinitas at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and  Latinitas’ Code Chica conference in app design this past Fall and Spring – what inspired you the most about these experiences?

Kavya: Seeing the girls’ faces as they become excited about technology and programming is my favorite part of each camp. It is amazing to watch how people can take a challenge and make their own to creative solution that could be completely different from the person sitting next to them but still achieve the same result. Programming is a universal language, and I love watching how it can bring together girls from so many different backgrounds and experiences.

Priya: It was amazing to see how quickly all the girls picked up coding skills in scratch and programming skills on the NXT Lego Mindstorms robots. Their enthusiasm to learn and desire to pursue a job in the STEM field inspired me, and I can’t wait to see how these girls will take their excitement further and break down gender barriers in STEM.

As 1st generation Americans (right?) do you relate to the girls and their experience? If so, how?

Priya + Kavya: We relate to the girls in that working hard to achieve our dreams have always been a priority. As a first generation Americans, hearing the struggles our parents went through to give us the life we have now makes us so much more appreciative, which is why we strive to take advantage of all the opportunities we have.

Favorite foods and thing to watch on TV:

Kavya: Chocolate cheesecake is something I can’t live without! Some of my favorite shows are White Collar, the West Wing, and anything on HGTV.

Priya: Like my sister I love cheesecake (especially a Smores one), but on any other day, you would probably find me snacking on samosas or extra-buttery popcorn!  Right now my favorite shows are the West Wing, anything on HGTV, and Suits.

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 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 :)