Jeannette Salas believes in asking questions.
"Asking questions will open doors: that's what it did for me," said Salas, a University of Nevada, Reno senior and the daughter of immigrants from Mexico.
On Sept. 12, Salas and others will have the opportunity to ask questions of our nation's highest ranking education official at a Town Hall on College Affordability and the Hispanic Community. The public-forum event, featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, will take place in the Joe Crowley Student Union Ballroom and is part of the U.S. Department of Education's cross-country, Education Drives America bus tour.
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics is partnering with the U.S. Department of Education to bring the Town Hall event to Reno. In addition to Secretary Duncan, the program will include Jose Rico, director of the White House Initiative, and Luis Fraga, a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics and a University of Washington professor.
"This event will provide the opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities Latino students and their parents face," said Emma Sepulveda, director of the Latino Research Center, which is part of the University and is a primary sponsor of the Town Hall. "Through the forum, our region will contribute to an important national policy discussion."
This past summer, Salas had a close-up view of policy setting in action. She was one of 40 students selected from a pool of 1,000 applicants nationwide to complete an internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. For her internship, Salas was placed in the office of Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute is a nonprofit organization committed to developing the next generation of Latino leaders. In addition to providing work experience, the internship provided professional skills training ranging from how to write a memo to how to shake hands and greet a U.S. senator.
Salas noted another important, intangible lesson learned: "Never forget our beginning. Having a story gives you a voice on Capitol Hill. Without a story, you can get lost."
Salas' own story demonstrates the impact of commitment to education. She is the oldest of six siblings born in this country.
"They never went back," she said of her parents. "It's a big sacrifice. They wanted to give us a great education. They used to say to us, 'When we die, we won't have money, but we will leave you with the inheritance of a good education.'"
Salas graduated from Sierra Vista High School in Las Vegas, and it was there that she learned the power of asking questions. Her mother was often at her side for school events and college fairs, but she did not speak English.
"When I was a senior in high school, I had to become informed," Salas said. "There was no one to sit me down and explain how to get to college. I was always asking questions about what to do."
Her curiosity and persistence, along with the encouragement of her parents, led her to the University of Nevada, Reno, where she is majoring in political science and Spanish, joined the Latino Research Center's Student Advisory Club, served as a University student ambassador and completed a study-abroad program in Madrid, Spain, through University Studies Abroad Consortium.
Salas looks forward to the upcoming Town Hall with Secretary Duncan, and hopes students come with questions and, if possible, their parents.
"Their parents are their support system, and having that support system involved in their education will help them," said Salas. "I remember having my mom at every conference and program. She did not understand the awards assembly, but she saw that I was happy. Seeing her so happy made me so proud and made me want to continue to make her happy."
"The Board of Regents has requested that all the NSHE campuses embark upon a more concerted effort towards the recruitment, retention and graduation of one of Nevada's most valuable natural resources, our Latino students," said Reg Chenn Stewart, director of diversity initiatives and of the University's Center for Student Cultural Diversity. "Events like this serve to bring community consensus to the effort."
Free public parking for the Town Hall on College Affordability and the Hispanic Community will be available in the University's West Stadium Parking Complex, north of Lawlor Events Center. Doors to the event open at 4 p.m., and representatives of the University, Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College will be on hand with recruitment and financial aid information.
To register to attend the Town Hall on College Affordability and the Hispanic Community, go to the University Latino Center.