“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret Mead

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Cooking Session with Mom - Colombian "Frijoles" and Palomilla Steak

If you've ever wondered how mom made that dish you absolutely love, I highly recommend doing a video of it! I am lucky enough to have a mom who lets me record her and share her cooking secrets with people she doesn't know. I'm still trying to convince her that we should record her empanadas (she said, "no way! I can't give away all my secrets!").

So, what does cooking have to do with leadership and higher education? They all require perseverance, trying things and taking risks, even if you don't have all the answers. Well, all I knew when I started recording was that I wanted to memorialize her cooking for my future children. I didn't know how to edit videos or convert media files, but I just gave it a shot. It was a fun experience which also 
allowed me to spend time with the woman who sacrificed her dreams to make sure I got an education. 

If nothing else, it's a great excuse for a home-cooked meal!

Juan Escobar, Social Entrepreneur

Juan, a native to Silicon Valley, has always had the entrepreneurial itch. From being heavily involved in giving back to the Latino community to working at several innovative companies, Juan has always wanted to combine his passion for community with his deep interest in entrepreneurship. 

Juan Escobar, is, in a word, visionary. I connected with him through a social network he created (yes, created) on LinkedIn and Facebook, called the Hispanic Students and Professionals Network (HSPN).

For example, Juan is currently developing Latinnect, a network dedicated to connecting Latin cultures & communities. “For the last couple of years I’ve noticed a huge need in the global Latin community for more awareness and collaboration among all the groups and resources in it that truly represent Latin cultures & communities,” says Juan. “Through Latinnect, I hope to provide a global solution to that need.” Follow Latinnect on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and yes, even Google+.

If that's not cool enough, Juan also has:
  • during college, interned at DreamWorks Animation, IDEO, Kellogg's (think: L'Eggo my Eggo!) and Symantec Corp. (the largest maker of security software), and Intuit;
  • was a leader in the National Society of Hispanic MBAs as an executive vice president and vice president of education; and, 
  • after college, worked for Google and LinkedIn. 
Needless to say, Juan has had some successes. He agreed to share his college and career advice and surprised me with some insight into social entrepreneurship!

Find out who you are and what you love
In talking about his college experience, Juan emphasized the importance of embarking on a journey of self-discovery: finding out who you are and what you love. Here's how Juan did it:
  • Use internships to learn about your interests. 
  • Juan didn't always know what he wanted to do and found that he had many interests. He took a job with the career services department of his university and learned about the different types of positions and their responsibilities. He was also often the first to find out about internships and jobs.
  • Get involved and work with diverse teams. Not only did Juan build his capacity for leadership by getting involved on campus (president of the Latino Business Students Association), but he also learned about his strengths and passions by overcoming challenges within diverse teams. In addition, Juan was able to apply those team building and relationship skills to his professional positions. 
  • Build a community you can turn to. Juan stressed the importance of a community, a  network of people you can turn to for guidance and support. He added that you should not only build but also maintain relationships. He also said that he wouldn't have had to figure everything out on his own had he had mentors to help him. You can and should build community with your peers, professors, administrators and professionals (for more tips on how to build and maintain relationships for college success, read Isa Adney's book and blog). 
Personally, I know that it wouldn't have been for my community of mentors and advisors, I wouldn't have even heard of the Harvard Latino Leadership Initiative. The LLI served as a launching pad for greater opportunities to grow and learn about who I was and what my passions are. It only takes one person to make that difference.

Juan's advice boils down to finding out who you are, what you're passionate about and building a community of people around you that will provide the guidance and support to help you get there.

A word on interviews

Juan also gave me some pointers on how to approach interviews. Besides researching the company and getting a good sense for the industry, the second most important thing is coming up with some questions specific about the job.

You want to know three main things about the employer: 

  1. Team dynamics (organization culture, mission and values); 
  2. The skill set required for the job; and,
  3. How success in the position is measured.
One question you can always ask a potential employer in an interview is "what are the top three qualities that you are looking for?" Listen to the response (take notes) and then answer how you meet each of those, using specific examples of previous success.

How to create value when building professional relationships

Juan lined up six interviews in one week without a single application, simply by tapping into his network. He built his network through mutually valuable relationships, based on creating a positive experience.

When I set out to be a paralegal, I approached my local paralegal association. I attended networking events, got on the board and attended conventions. This allowed me to build a community of supportive professionals. When I had a difficult career decision to make, it was my network which I turned to. In fact, it was this network that helped me land the job I have today!

The message, Juan says, is simple: "I know you and you know me, let's keep in touch and we can help one another." But what if you don't talk with the person for a while? "Make it a positive experience so that when you're ready to communicate, that person is there for you."

As an example, I keep in touch with freelance reporter Walter Villa, who covered the 305 Rise story for the College Forum. To this day, I check in with Walter from time to time when I find an article I think he'd enjoy and I comment on his stories published online. By doing so, I am creating a positive experience simply by being genuinely interested and willing to share information.

How do you create value in a professional relationship? "Think about what your passions and strengths are. You not only bring your network, intelligence and experiences, but you also bring your unique personality."

Well, said, Juan.

There is no one like you in this world. You bring as much to the table with your enthusiasm, dedication, experiences and ideas.

What is a start-up looking for? Should I work for one?

In creating groups like HSPN and Latinnect, Juan developed an interest in startups that add value to society. I asked Juan what kind of person a startup would be looking for and when it's appropriate to work for a larger company instead.

Simply put, startup companies look for people who are entrepreneurial -- "people that want to create something and do it." People who are self-starting, curious, passionate and motivated who are willing to create systems and processes where there are none.

As to whether you should work for one, Juan recommends looking at two things:

  1. Look at the opportunities around you. What's available and realistic for you? Check out this Mashable article with links to startup job boards.
  2. Determine what you're trying to achieve. Is your objective to manage a multi-million dollar budget, or are you more interested in creating something new from scratch? If you want to create something new, startups are a great place to learn and grow. 

What is a social entrepreneur anyway?

According to Juan, social entrepreneurship is "using entrepreneurial means to create something of value for society." It is building something for the common good. You're not only meeting the needs of your clients or customers, but you're also giving back to the community or society at large. It could be a small business or a department within a multi-million dollar company. Juan mentioned a mountain hiking gear company, Patagonia, which sold hiking gear but also funded ecological causes through their work. See FastCompany's 25 best social entrepreneurs here or BusinessWeek's 25 most promising social entrepreneurs here

If you want to learn more about Juan, you can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. He is an open book, willing to answer questions and with a wealth of knowledge to give!

Did you learn from this post? Please share your thoughts with a comment!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Vision for My Blog this Summer

I'm thrilled to have had followers, views and comments on my blog. As my life continues to evolve, I figured it's about time this blog evolved too. 
I'm excited to announce that over the next few weeks, thanks to some great advice from a fellow blogger extraordinaire Isa Adney, I will be conducting informational interviews. 

 What are they, you ask? They are simply interviews of people with a purpose. Isa's purpose in her Community College Success book was to interview people in careers she was interested in (she also covers informational interviews of professionals on her blog). I will focus my interviews on their career, education and leadership stories. My mission is to give you, my readers, this message: people have overcome and it is possible to make your dreams come true. What better way drive this message home than through stories?

My first interviews will be with my friends at 305 Rise and will focus on their paths to educational success. Then, I will be interviewing professionals, a motivational speaker, a journalist (or two) and (eeeeek!) the former City of Miami mayor, Manny Diaz.

Speaking of Manny, he called me today for one reason: I asked for his advice. I approached him genuinely and he reciprocated by giving me his time (and agreeing to talk to me for this blog).  Full disclosure: Manny was a speaker at our 305 Rise retreat. He agreed, because he loves helping young people, but also because someone asked. I can't wait to tell you his story.

Here's to an exciting summer!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

305 Rise Mentees Take the Next Step ...

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of seeing several of our 305 Rise participant students attend a proposal writing workshop for Mobilize.org.

Mobilize, in a nutshell, is a nonprofit targeting Millenials (born 1976-1996) -- providing ways for them to identify problems and propose solutions facing this generation. This year, they are hosting a Summit, called Target 2020, whereby students submit proposals on how they would increase college completion rates in their community. At the Summit in June, held in Miami Beach, the students themselves will vote on the best proposals and the winners will receive up to $7,500 to implement their project.

I'm rooting for my 305 Rise participants, who are brainstorming some great ideas, including:

Empowering recently migrated international women attending MDC for the first time by helping them to create a network among themselves, hosting a speaker series with prominent international women, developing engaging workshops and partnering with MDC international clubs and departmental centers such as the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Creating a mentoring program for aging-out foster youth high school seniors by developing college informational sessions and tutoring sessions at MDC and partnering with local community organizations, such as  Miami Bridge and the Community Partnership for the Homeless.

Increasing young men's attendance and completion in higher education by establishing a forum where they can create a support network among themselves and by hosting workshops that build their capacity for leadership as well as provide information for college admission and success.

Other organizations partnering with Mobilize.org include:

Do you have ideas on how you would increase college completion at your school? You can share your voice and apply to attend the Target 2020 Summit here.