- Author: Mariana Gonzalez
On October 4th, 2019, I flew from the San Diego airport to attend the 33rd Annual Conference of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, as part of the Student Track's Adelante Institute in Chicago Illinois. The conference took place from October 5th to October 7th with about 600 Hispanic college students in attendance. About 230 of these students were sponsored by HACU, higher education institutions, corporations, or federal partners. I was the sole representative of my college, San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, sponsored by USDA.
Each day, the conference hosted various workshops with a focus on leadership development. Representatives from government agencies and service companies conducted the workshops. I gained valuable insight on my leadership skills and received information on how to further improve these skills. Not only did HACU emphasized the importance of developing leadership skills but they also promoted Hispanic diversity in the workplace. They served as a bridge to connect public organizations, agencies, and universities to me. Agencies in attendance sought to increase diversity in their organization and were looking for Hispanic students as potential applicants for their internship programs. Throughout the three-day event, there were many networking opportunities. There was a Networking Exhibition Hall where all organizations in attendance had a designated booth to promote their organization and recruit students into their agencies and programs. Each day, I spoke to different representatives, exchange contact information, and gave copies of my resume to the representatives. I have learned of many career options and am currently applying to these opportunities.
Another impactful aspect of this conference were the people in attendance. I met so many students from different colleges, states, and countries. Attending the conference in Chicago made me witness firsthand just how diverse is the Hispanic community. Most of the population in the Imperial Valley is comprised of Mexican heritage. The Imperial Valley is surrounded by Mexican culture. All I knew about the Hispanic culture was Mexican traditions and customs. I learned more about other Hispanic cultures directly from HACU students who were Puerto Rican, Cuban, Ecuadorian, and Spanish, just to name a few. HACU celebrated our stories and everyone's heritage. It took leaving my hometown, my comfort zone, and a visit to Chicago, a place with multiple cultures, for me see the diversity of Hispanic community.
All the students I met had their own set of obstacles with a strong determination and passion to pursue a higher education. I met fellow USDA Sponsored Scholars and spent time getting to know them. We shared our stories and personal experiences. Most of these students were experiencing their visit to Chicago, like me. Speaking with students with similar backgrounds has encouraged me to not only tell my story, but to be proud of that story. I am proud of my upbringing, my heritage, and my culture. I am proud to be a first-generation college student and to be a Hispanic female in a STEM field. I am proud of the leadership skills I have acquired through USDA. I had my own set of struggles that I overcame. HACU helped me realize that I should proudly tell my story as I am doing so now.
It has been a month since I attended this conference. Needless to say, I have had enough time to process this experience. I can say with absolute certainty that the emotions ignited by this experience still burn passionately within me. I could not have had this experience if it weren't for the USDA sponsorship. My internship with USDA allowed me to gain opportunities outside of the internship. I cannot emphasize how impactful USDA internships are, especially in the Imperial Valley. Being a low-income, first generation student, I found it difficult to see if there were opportunities for me. I thought there were not many options for me and that I had no choice but to leave the Imperial Valley to seek out opportunities. However, ever since I met USDA, I have found so many career opportunities and have learned so much from my experience with USDA internships. I have grown from these experiences and gained skills with constant development and improvement. I could not have had this self-reflecting, eye-opening, amazing experience if it weren't for my USDA internship providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For that, I am eternally grateful.