Latino success through fellowship

By Jose L. Fierro

“It can be lonely at the top — especially for Latino leaders.”

This sentiment was heard from several of the nation’s higher education leaders during this year’s National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC) Leadership Symposium, appropriately held in September as we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. This year, we welcomed more than 130 Hispanic/Latino leaders across the nation at the event, and one common topic of conversation was how great it was to be in welcoming space amongst our peers in higher education, because it does get lonely.

As Hispanic/Latino leaders, the further up the ranks we climb, the more we see that college presidents and leadership are not necessarily representative of the students we serve. Not only does that make it difficult to connect with others who understand the lived experience of being a Hispanic/Latino student, it can also make it challenging to connect with peer support groups.

As all of us progress in our careers, we know that it becomes increasingly important to maintain a robust support network of colleagues and mentors to help us advance professionally. According to the 2023 American College President Study, many presidents of color indicated that they struggle to find people who understand the experience of being a president.

Yet we also find that if we don’t establish our networks early, it becomes increasingly difficult to find and make meaningful, lasting connections.

A strong foundation

Here is where NCCHC plays a crucial role for our colleagues across the country. Since 2002, NCCHC facilitates the annual the Leadership Fellows Program, designed for community college educators whose career interest focuses on assuming increasingly responsible administrative positions, with the ultimate goal of becoming an executive leader of a community college.

Maria Harper-Marinick, Fellows Program executive director, was a graduate of the first cohort of program and has dedicated her career to learning and education. Not only does she lead the program with passion, but she acutely understands the challenges that Hispanic/Latino leaders face in higher education, having served the Maricopa Community College District for almost 30 years in a variety of leadership roles, including as chancellor for the system.

Harper-Marinick is leading the charge to reinvigorate the Fellows Program curriculum, focusing on program outcomes that include understanding leadership competencies required of aspiring leaders, issues facing Hispanic students in community colleges, equity and diversity related to Hispanic/Latino leadership, and importantly, identifying your own leadership capabilities, professional development needs, and develop a plan to achieve your desired career goal. f

A nurturing network

This year, we welcomed 34 individuals to the 2023-24 Fellows Cohort, and they began their first program sessions in conjunction with the NCCHC Leadership Symposium. The sessions are rigorous and feature the nation’s top Hispanic/Latino leaders who are incredibly in tune with the needs of our students. But what I want to emphasize about the program is not just the learning strands and outcomes, but the sense of community that the program fosters between each and every one of the dellows, who hail from community college institutions from across the United States.

Sonia De La Torre-Iniguez, dean of equity at Long Beach Community College (California) and 2023 aspiring fellow, stated the following about her experience in the program:

“The Fellows program is both inspiring and affirming. As a woman of color in mid-level management, it is validating to hear directly from other women leaders about their experiences and gain insight about how they have navigated their roles to the presidency. Also, as a first-generation practitioner-scholar, I greatly appreciated the insight from chancellors, vice chancellors, presidents, and other senior leaders about the importance of mentorship, networking, and preparation. Overall, the Fellows program provides me with insight and reassurance while also connecting me with a network of familia to support me along the way. The connections are invaluable.”

Throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, the United States celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. But as Hispanic/Latino leaders, we are here, year-round, lifting up our students who want and deserve an equitable education through the nation’s community college system.   To my colleagues in higher education: you are not doing this work alone. If you are looking to grow your knowledge and support network, I highly encourage you to apply for the competitive Fellows program in 2024.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Jose L. Fierro

Dr. Jose L. Fierro is president of the National Community College Hispanic Council, an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges, and president/superintendent of Cerritos College.