Hispanic Heritage Month is a vibrant and culturally rich celebration from September 15th to October 15th each year. During this month-long tribute, we honor the many contributions, diverse cultures, and profound histories of the American Latino community (U.S. Census Bureau).
The roots of Hispanic Heritage Month trace back to 1968, when it was first observed as “Hispanic Heritage Week.” Over the years, its significance and scope have expanded, resulting in its designation as a month-long celebration in 1988. Throughout September and into October, the nation commemorates this remarkable heritage through various festivals, art exhibitions, conferences, community gatherings, and various other festivities.
Additionally, this month pays homage to the independence days of several Latin American countries, such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua on September 15th, Mexico on September 16th, and Chile on September 18th. It also includes special holidays like Virgin Islands-Puerto Rico Friendship Day, celebrated in the U.S. Virgin Islands, recognizing the profound impact of Hispanic contributions.
Hispanic Heritage Month + Higher Education
Hispanic Heritage Month is about celebrating diversity within the Hispanic community. It’s a mosaic of cultures, traditions, and backgrounds that enriches American society. In higher education, diversity and representation are equally critical. Having Hispanic students, faculty, and staff on campus not only provides role models but also fosters cross-cultural understanding and empathy among all community members.
Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) play a pivotal role in this narrative. These colleges and universities, where Hispanics comprise at least 25% of the student population (U.S. Department of Education), are essential hubs for nurturing talent. Their presence provides a space for Hispanic students to see themselves reflected in their surroundings, as well as tailored support and resources. HSIs have been growing steadily, reflecting a commitment to inclusion in higher education (Inside HigherEd).
Celebrating Leaders in Higher Education
In celebration of Hispanic practitioners in higher education, I’m taking the next month to honor their accomplishments, share their stories, and explore their impact on their institutions and communities. I’ll be uplifting professionals on and off campus, at all levels.
I will be adding a new group of extraordinary leaders each week. Join me in celebrating their accomplishments, elevating their stories, and amplifying their voices this month and beyond! Make sure you follow them on the platforms listed and keep learning from them year-round!
Amanda Flores (She/Her/Ella)
Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, WKAR Public Media at Michigan State University
Amanda Flores is a proud daughter of migrant and immigrant farm-working parents and the Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at WKAR in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. Amanda serves as a DEI consultant, fostering partnerships between the station, the university, and the mid-Michigan area. Before joining WKAR, she spent a decade in higher education, championing student success and cultural curiosity. She’s worked at Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas A&M University, and Michigan State University, always striving to amplify marginalized voices.
Ty-Juana Flores (She/Her/Hers)
Director, Identity-Based Programs, Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Introducing Ty-Juana L. Flores, an Afro-Latina with Panamanian roots from Roxbury, MA. She has been an integral part of Berklee for over 11 years, now leading Identity-Based Programs (IBP), including Black Scholars Initiative and SOMOS Latinx. Ty-Juana’s role involves strategic vision, assessment, and advancing Berklee’s commitment to BSI and SOMOS Latinx students’ success. Among her accomplishments are boosting Black Scholars’ retention and graduation rates, and launching SOMOS Latinx’s pre-orientation program.
In her downtime, she finds joy in crafting collages, cherishing moments with her daughter, and exploring new museum and art gallery exhibits.
Nestor Melendez (He/Him/His/El)
Dean of Student Services, Hillsborough Community College
It’s an honor to showcase Nestor Melendez, a Puerto Rican native from New York, bringing over 20 years of experience in Higher Ed to his role at Hillsborough Community College. His passion lies in empowering individuals to advance their life stories. Nestor’s mission is to guide students in discovering their unique talents and igniting their love of learning. Along his journey, he’s embraced diverse educational settings, but finds his true calling in Community Colleges.
“I am still discovering myself, my path, and understand that where I am is exactly where I am meant to be.” He continues, “All my intersectionalities have conspired to help make me a more empathic and world-aware person. No one should ever be made to feel like they don’t belong.”
Sofia B. Pertuz (She/Her/Ella)
Managing Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Billie Jean King Enterprises
Meet Sofia B. Pertuz, an educator, consultant, and certified executive coach with 25+ years in higher education, nonprofits, and corporations. She is the Managing Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Billie Jean King Enterprises and founder of Mainstream Insight, LLC, which provides tailored DEI advisory services to organizations and senior leaders. In both English and Spanish, she speaks on leadership development, change management, social justice, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy.
She shared, “I have had to navigate the way my intersecting identities show up in different spaces. It has made it easier for me to pivot to different roles and industries using my transferable skills. I have been able to go from higher education, to nonprofits, to corporate seamlessly and I love mentoring people who are in their own transitions, letting them know it is possible to shift.”
Eva Martinez Powless (She/Her/Ella)
Vice President of Enrollment & Retention, Milwaukee Area Technical College
Eva Martinez Powless, Vice President of Enrollment & Retention at Milwaukee Area Technical College, has twenty years of higher education and nonprofit administration experience and is dedicated to fostering inclusion. She’s previously spearheaded DEI initiatives, and is dedicated to equitable outcomes. Her journey, from overcoming language barriers as a young immigrant to her extensive career, inspires others to strive for meaningful work. Eva’s leadership is grounded in empathy, compassion, and collaboration.
In Eva’s words, “I came to the U.S. at 12 years old, did not speak any English, and had to overcome a lot of obstacles to be here – as a woman, an immigrant, ELL, Mexican, teen mom, and brown woman with indigenous roots. I hope my journey inspires others to push forward and do work, ‘que valga la pena.’”
Stephen Santa-Ramirez (He/Him/His)
Assistant Professor of Higher Education, University at Buffalo
Please join me in honoring Stephen Santa-Ramirez, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo. Throughout his career, he has worked in Multicultural and LGBT+ Affairs, Residential Life, Housing Services, and Migrant Student Services. His research examines the inequalities faced by Black, Latinx, Indigenous, im/migrant, and other underserved communities. It explores campus racial climate, first-generation experiences, college activism, and the impact of race, ethnicity, immigration status, and policy on college students.
Stephen actively engages in programs like NASPA’s Emerging Faculty Leadership Academy and the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE). He has received the ACPA Latinx Network Community Advancement and Service Award among other honors.
Vice Chancellor for Student Life, University of Tennessee
As Vice Chancellor for Student Life, Frank Cuevas serves as the campus’ chief student advocate. He and his team oversee vital aspects of student life, including care, wellness, leadership opportunities, and extensive facility management. In 2021, he introduced a new strategic plan to create a student-centered environment.
Prior to joining UT in 2010, Frank worked in student affairs at The Ohio State University and Florida State University. In addition to his expertise in international affairs and higher education, he works as an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Frank strives to improve the student experience in all he does.
Naydeen Gonzalez-De Jesus
President, San Antonio College
Give a warm welcome to Naydeen Gonzalez-De Jesus, San Antonio College’s 13th president. Previously, she was vice president of student affairs at Bergen Community College; an associate dean at Rowan College at Burlington County, working with special populations; and an assistant dean at Salem Community College, where she established and directed the Center for Student Success. A first-gen college grad, Naydeen is an Aspen Rising Presidents Fellow and National Community College Hispanic Council Fellow.
“Being an Afro Puerto Rican, Latina, raised by a single mother, the eldest, first-generation college student and first doctoral holder in the family are factors that have prepared me to remain resilient, determined, and humble in my servant leadership as I transform lives through education.” She continues, “Resist the urge to fit in. We are designed to be trendsetters and transform the world around us. Embrace all of you and be confidently you.”
Erin Gore (She/Her/Hers)
Vice President for Client Technology, RHB
It’s a pleasure to highlight Erin Gore. She brings 18 years of experience in higher ed tech, marketing, and enrollment management. Previously at Technolutions, she managed Slate.org and assisted colleges with Slate CRM. Erin’s a “tech humanist,” passionate about tech’s role in college access.
Erin provided insight on her intersecting identities by saying, “My grandmother grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico and moved to the States in 1946 to seek opportunity for future generations to come. At the core of opportunity was the pursuit of education. My mother became the first to earn a college degree in our family and later pursued her masters. She broke down barriers to access as a first-gen working mom who never let societal setbacks or challenges stop her from attaining a higher education. The threads of my family’s determination and resilience are woven into my life and career–including my desire to influence access to education through technology.”
Miguel Ángel Hernández (El/He/Him)
Associate Vice President & Dean of Students, San Francisco State University
Join me in celebrating Miguel Ángel Hernández. He says, “Being Latino, one of the cultural traditions I bring into my work is the art of storytelling. I believe one thing that changes hearts and minds are stories.”
As a first-generation graduate, he completed his doctorate at Florida State University, where he studied DACA students and their social activism. In 2020, he was honored as the inaugural Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Afro-Latinidad Scholar in Residence at UC Irvine. Miguel is deeply committed to fostering diversity and inclusion. His influence extends to the university’s leadership team and advisory committees, where he plays a vital role in shaping policy and decisions. He emphasizes continuous personal, spiritual, and professional development, grounded in humility, compassion, and authenticity.
John C. Hernandez
President of Irvine Valley College
I’m honored to showcase John Hernandez. With 33 years of experience, including roles at Cal Poly Pomona and Santa Ana College, John is a leader in student affairs. He’s actively contributed to the American College Personnel Association, served on boards, and published research on Latino/a student retention and community college leadership.
As a first-generation immigrant and product of California’s community college system, he understands the transformative power of education, a journey that began at Fullerton College. Dr. Hernandez’s leadership and personal story inspire educational excellence.
Susana Hernández (She/Her/Ella)
Assistant Professor, Northern Arizona University
Say hello to Susana Hernández. As a first-generation Latina in higher education, her experiences shape and inform her research. Using critical and non-deficit frameworks, Susana studies how higher education policies affect the educational and work experiences of racially and ethnically minoritized students and faculty. More recently, her research has examined developmental education reform policies and campus carry policies.
Before NAU (my grad school alma mater!), Susana worked on education, academic success, outreach, and support programs for first-generation, ethnically diverse, and international students. She has her Ph.D. in Educational Administration with an emphasis in Higher Education Administration from Texas A&M University.
Nancy Camarillo (She/Her/Hers/Ella)
Assistant Director for Professional Development, Center for First-Generation Student Success, NASPA
Give a warm welcome to Nancy Camarillo. The youngest of six siblings, she hails from immigrant parents from Mexico and El Salvador. She has extensive experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, academic retention services, sorority and fraternity life, student organization advising, and first-year experience programs. She is currently pursuing her PhD with a research focus on challenging assumptions about Latinx/o/s and exploring their multiethnic identities. She is also interested in studying first-generation Latinx/a/o college graduates’ experiences in the field.
Nancy takes immense pride in being a first-generation college graduate and is making significant contributions to the field of student affairs and higher education.
Martha Enciso (She/Her/Hers/Ella)
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Identity and Belonging, California State University, Fullerton
I’m honored to highlight Martha Enciso, Associate VP for Student Affairs at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Her area of responsibility is Identity and Belonging, which includes Special Populations and Diversity Initiatives and Resource Centers. With experience in academic and student affairs, Martha focuses on addressing equity issues on campus through cross-divisional partnerships. She focuses her research on first-generation college students, transfer students, and historically marginalized students.
In addition to presenting her work nationally, she served as co-chair of NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community’s national leadership team. Currently, she serves as a member of the editorial board for NASPA’s Journal of First-generation Student Success and on the executive council for the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators (AHSIE).
Alfredo Medina Jr. (He, Him, His, El)
Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and College Diversity Officer, Bennington College
Meet Alfredo Medina Jr., a multifaceted individual who embraces his Dominican, African, and Indigenous roots, in addition to his New Yorker and Latino identities. His commitment to the liberal arts, honed over 15 years, fuels his passion for challenging biases and promoting inclusivity. As an advocate for reevaluating outdated curricula and fostering culturally responsive teaching, he ensures that students see themselves reflected in their education.
In his own words, from an article he wrote for Bennington College, “As a young man, I struggled to grasp how I would fit into the world. I was constantly asking myself if I was brown or Black enough. I gravitated towards storytelling at an early age and have since made it my life’s work to amplify the voices of people, like myself, who are often marginalized and have had to navigate a multitude of ethnic/sexual/religious identities in predominantly white spaces.”
Terry Mena (He/Him/El)
Vice President and Dean of Students, Northeastern Illinois University
Join me in celebrating Terry C. Mena, VP for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Northeastern Illinois University. He’s a proud Nicaraguan-American with Indigenous heritage and a first-gen student, shaped by an inner-city school system. His unwavering commitment lies in fostering access, social mobility, student success, and crafting transformative educational experiences for all students.
Terry plays a pivotal role in NASPA programs like the Undergraduate Fellows Program – Dungy Leadership Institute and NASPA Region III/SACSA Mid Managers’ Institute, and is a past chair of the National Latino/Knowledge Community. Terry received the National AVP/Senior-Level Student Affairs Professional Award in 2021, and, most recently, was inducted into the NASPA Foundation Pillar of the Profession Class of 2023.
Christian Ponce (He/Him/El)
Associate Vice President for Marketing, Old Dominion University
I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight Christian Ponce. A native of Honduras, he came to the United States to pursue his education at Drury University. In the years since, he has created a successful career in marketing for a number of institutions. Christian was responsible for the launch of Miami University’s first award-winning multicultural marketing campaign and the rollout of the award-winning brand campaign, “You Will.”
“Being a bi-cultural marketer allows me to expand my frame of reference, so I can provide better counsel and strategies to my clients and campus partners.” He goes on to say, “marketing is my passion; multicultural marketing is my calling.”
President, San José State University
I have long been a fan of Cynthia Teniente-Matson, President of San José State. Her career includes leadership at California State University, Fresno, and transformative work at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. She expanded the latter into a comprehensive master’s university, while earning the U.S. Department of Education Hispanic Serving Institution designation and the Seal of Excelencia.
With over 30 years in higher education, Cynthia prioritizes students and fosters partnerships. She’s a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and civic engagement. Her influence extends nationally, serving on various educational and civic boards, and, in 2022, she was appointed to the Japan U.S. Friendship Commission and CULCON.
President, American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) | Chancellor, California State University
It is an honor to get to shine a light on Mildred García. Starting October 1, she will be the first Latina to lead the 23-campus University of California system. With a distinguished career, including AASCU presidency, she’s a champion for student success and equity. Her leadership transformed institutions, marked by record graduations and financial revitalization. Committed to student success, Mildred has received numerous awards, advised President Obama, and earned multiple degrees as a first-generation student. She aims to advance student achievement, equity, and California’s prosperity, embodying optimism, authenticity, and dedication to success for all CSU students.
Francisco Díaz (He/Him/El)
Associate Vice President, Student Development, William Paterson University
Give a warm welcome to Francisco Díaz. He has 36 years of student success experience, and has overseen a diverse set of departments from Athletics & Recreation to LGBTQA Programs, showcasing his transformative leadership.
Francisco actively contributes to the field through professional organizations like NASPA, NODA, NAMME, and NAACO. His leadership, program reviews, and presentations have made a significant impact. He’s also a mentor, earning recognition from Student Governments, Programming Boards, and more. His numerous honors include Outstanding Club Advisor Awards, the EOF NJ Champion, and the prestigious Fred Turner Award for Outstanding Service to NASPA Region II.
Cynthia L. Hernandez (She/Her/Hers)
Vice President for Student Success, Texas State University
Join me in celebrating Cynthia L. Hernandez. She is currently the Vice President for Student Success at Texas State University, where she leads a diverse team of over 400 staff across 12 departments, including housing, counseling, and career services. With more than 25 years of progressive leadership experience, she is deeply committed to enhancing student success through inclusive, student-centered programs and effectively communicating their impact.
Cynthia is actively involved in professional organizations like NASPA and NODA, where she served as President. Her wide-ranging interests span leadership, strategic planning, threat assessment, and advocacy for Latinas in higher education administration, reflecting her dedication to improving higher education policy and outcomes for students.
Julianna Hernandez (She/Her/Hers)
Associate Director for Operations, University of California Alianza MX
Meet Julianna Hernandez. She oversees the University of California-Mexico collaborations, ensuring smooth operational activities. Previous to her current role, she spent time at Cal State, Fullerton where she supported strategic enrollment management, emphasizing first-generation and Hispanic-Serving Institution initiatives in Student Affairs, along with managing undergraduate student recruitment and orientation programs. Julianna also pioneered the role of Bilingual Coordinator for Orientation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, creating the university’s first Spanish-language orientation program for families.
Currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership at Colorado State University, Julianna is deeply involved in first-generation and Latinx student success research, with a special focus on family engagement at Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
Assistant Vice Chancellor for President Searches, Evaluations, and Development and Executive Director for the Hispanic Leadership Institute, The State University of New York
Say hello to Zulaika Rodriguez. She’s the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Presidential Searches, Evaluations, and Development, leading crucial efforts in executive recruitment, onboarding, and transitions. Zulaika’s impressive role extends to the State University of New York Hispanic Leadership Institute, where she fosters the growth of future Latino leaders across 64 SUNY campuses. She’s a dedicated first-generation talent, hailing from Puerto Rico and thriving in Brooklyn, NY. Her outstanding organizational skills, attention to detail, and adaptability make her an invaluable asset to her department and constituents.
“My work allows me to ensure that we always maintain inclusive and equitable processes and create professional development opportunities that open doors for the next Latino generation.”
Mayra Olivares-Urueta (She/Her/Ella)
Executive in Residence of Higher Education and Director of the Bill J. Priest Center for Community College Education, University of North Texas
I am so excited to feature Mayra Olivares-Urueta! She’s a dedicated researcher focusing on student success, particularly among Latinx students, and advocates for inclusive education narratives. Mayra actively engages in professional organizations, community service, and mentoring. Her outstanding contributions have earned national recognition, including being named one of the top 40 under 40 women in community colleges.
In her own words, “My Mexican-American mamá identities have made me a fierce fighter for the removal of inequities in our higher education system. Ensuring my students see themselves in me drives me to be authentic and to take pride in my heritage by wearing cultural attire that is proudly Mexican/Texican/Spanglish and by speaking Spanish and Spanglish in all higher education spaces in which I may be.”
Dr. Anthony Cruz (He/Him)
President, Miami Dade College Kendall Campus
Meet Dr. Anthony Cruz. He has a rich 27-year background in higher education, and currently serves as President of the Kendall Campus at Miami Dade College. Throughout his career, he’s focused on expanding educational opportunities, improving the student experience, and fostering student success at various institutions, including community colleges and universities in various states. Dr. Cruz’s commitment extends to his involvement on advisory boards, task forces, and educational organizations, all while holding degrees in Political Science, Public Administration and a Doctorate in Higher Education from Florida International University.
Dr. Juan R. Guardia (He/Him)
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, University of Cincinnati
Give a warm welcome to Juan R. Guardia. During his impressive 24-year student affairs career, he has held key administrative roles at institutions like the University of Cincinnati and Northeastern Illinois University. Currently serving as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the University of Cincinnati, he also shares his knowledge as adjunct faculty at various educational institutions. Dr. Guardia’s dedication to leadership roles in organizations like ACPA, NASPA, and NALFO has earned him numerous awards, and he takes pride in being a first-generation college graduate with a rich academic background in higher education administration and leadership.
When asked how his intersecting identities played a role in making him an even better higher education professional, Dr. Guardia responded, “identifying as Latino/Cuban-American, Gay, First Gen, and as a fraternity man inform and enhance my work when advocating for students’ safety, well-being, and success.”
Dr. Marla Franco (She/Her/Ella)
Vice President, Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Initiatives, University of Arizona
Shoutout to Dr. Marla Franco! She played a pivotal role in achieving federal recognition as the first four-year public university in Arizona as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). With almost 25 years of experience in higher education, she has dedicated her career to increasing college access and degree attainment for underserved students. Dr. Franco is not only an accomplished author but also the driving force behind the AZ HSI Consortium, fostering collaboration among Arizona HSIs and spearheading innovative programs that serve as models nationwide.
As a first-generation college graduate herself, Dr. Franco’s journey has been marked by academic achievement, including a doctoral degree in higher education leadership. Her strategic leadership and unwavering passion drive positive change in higher education and foster enhanced opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students.
Nat Betancourt Arellano (They/Them)
Senior Coordinator, LGBT Queer Resource, CSU Fullerton
Say hello to Nat Betancourt Arellano. They hold a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a minor in History from California State University, Fullerton, and a Master of Science in College Counseling and Student Development from Azusa Pacific University. As a CSUF alum, they are passionate about giving back to their community and have a diverse background in First-Year Experience, Career Services, Leadership Development, Residence Life, and Diversity & Equity.
Nat’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident in their recognition as the 2021 Staff of the Year for the Division of Student Affairs at Cal State Fullerton, and they hope to inspire and support students exploring their own queer identities as someone who identifies as bisexual and non-binary.
Dr. Susana M. Muñoz (She/Her/Hers/Ella)
Professor, Colorado State University | Author | Equity & Justice Consultant | Change Leader
Dr. Susana Muñoz is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at Colorado State University with a strong passion for addressing underrepresented populations’ challenges in higher education. Her research focuses on crucial topics like access, identity, and college persistence for undocumented Latinx students, employing various perspectives and research methods to tackle issues of power and inequity. She earned recognition from the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She was named one of the “top 25 most influential women in higher education” by Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine.
With a solid background in student affairs and a commitment to making a difference, Dr. Muñoz’s academic journey, from a B.A. in Political Science to a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, is marked by her dedication to informing immigration policy and enhancing higher education practices.
Dr. Salvador Mena (He/Him/His/El)
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
Sal shares, “As a bi-ethnic and multi-racial Latinx individual who is neurodiverse, along with other identities, my intersecting identities have given me great appreciation for the diversity in backgrounds of the students and colleagues I serve in higher education. As a result, I advocate and try to foster environments where students and staff can show up and be their whole selves. The Latinx community is rich in its diversity and integral to the history of the United States and its future.”
Dr. Salvador Mena, originally from Harlem, New York, has an impressive journey in higher education, driven by a commitment to inclusion and social justice. Graduating from the University of Maine, he holds degrees in political science, student development, and higher education administration. With a wealth of experience at various institutions and leadership roles, including Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Mena has dedicated himself to advancing student success and diversity initiatives. His extensive involvement in higher education organizations, such as NASPA, and recognition as a Pillar of the Profession underscore his dedication to making a positive impact in the field.
Check back next week for another group of inspiring Hispanic and Latino leaders in higher education!
- National Hispanic Heritage Month
- Excelencia in Education
- Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
- American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education
- Journal of Hispanic Higher Education
- Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators
- HSIs on the Rise
- NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community
- ACPA Latinx Network
Have another resource to add to this list? I’d love to know about it! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.