The Time to Inspire Our Youth is Now

02/24/2012 08:52 am ET | Updated Apr 25, 2012

We live in a world where technology seems to rule our lives and up-close and personal interaction is becoming a thing of the past or, at best, a low priority.

After sharing my educational and professional journey with thousands of Latino students in classrooms, auditoriums and other venues over the past four years, I can tell you that this personal approach is more critical than ever in today's world if we are to make a positive impact on our youth.

The students' consistent feedback tells me I'm right: "You have inspired me to work harder. Now that I have met you, I know I will also be able to achieve my dreams." As the president of HISPA, which stands for Hispanics Inspiring Students' Performance and Achievement, I have enabled over 250 volunteer professionals in New Jersey to share their stories of success speaking directly to 6th-9th grade students that participate in our programs. HISPA has registered another 400 volunteers who are committed to doing the same. These individuals can attest to the immediate and profound impact of sharing a little time from their very busy lives with the young students.

HISPA ( is a New Jersey-based national non-profit organization dedicated to contributing to America's future by inspiring Latino students' academic performance and achievement through the mobilization of Latino professionals who serve as active role models in educational programs within their communities. Our main goal is to reduce the 41 percent dropout rate among Latino youth, which is higher than any other minority group.

One of HISPA's key strategies is to support existing educational programs in which at least half of the students are Latino. Since September 2008, HISPA has reached more than 2,500 students through year-round activities including the Role Model Program, and annual "Take Action, Achieve Your Dreams" youth conferences.

Our role models share their life stories with an emphasis on their educational achievements and professional accomplishments. We explain how we established our goals and describe the obstacles we had to overcome. We talk about the help we had along the way and, finally, how we pursued higher education to achieve our dreams.

As one role model put it, the message we bring to the students is a simple one: "Just like you, I sat there--and look at me now."

In addition to making available positive and professional role models to students, HISPA has successfully brought together a wide range of organizations that understand the urgency of developing the Latino youth - encouraging them to pursue higher education and to consider high-skilled jobs -and to become key contributors to the continued success of our country. Our program provides a venue for employees who are volunteering as role models to showcase their corporations and promote them as possible future employers to the students.

The majority of the role models are tapped from the corporate sector -- many of them with advanced degrees and careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Others come from the public sector, including elected and appointed officials at local and state levels.

HISPA is also collaborating with a large number of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), national professional organizations and other non-profit organizations that share similar missions.

HISPA's corporate roots go back to 1984 when it was first established as an ERG at AT&T. Over the years, the organization's mission and vision has evolved and today we are a stand-alone organization growing with each year.

As a former ERG president, I truly enjoy visiting with these groups and sharing what I have learned through my professional journey. It serves as motivation for the many Latino professionals to get involved right in their own communities as HISPA role models, and inspire students while serving as company ambassadors.

In my early years in the telecommunication industry, I could have never predicted my educational and professional journey would be a source of inspiration to the Latino youth. Now my goal is to focus my efforts on sharing the urgency of this work and reminding others about the existing need for positive role models in the lives of so many Latino students. Today HISPA serves as a catalyst to inspire them to stay in school, do well in high school, and pursue higher education.

I am grateful to all the HISPA role models that are sharing their stories with the students and to all the wonderful supporters who have said: "¡Presente!" I know that if there ever comes a time when any of us wonder if it was worthwhile to have the personal interaction with the students, we only need to remember this one student's words:

"Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to come speak to us. Your presentation has inspired me to stay in school and finish college. You gave me confidence and I now know that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I will do my very best and pass everything."

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Dr. Ivonne Diaz-Claisse is the President and CEO of HISPA, Hispanics Inspiring Students' Performance and Achievement, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in New Jersey. She holds Masters in both mathematics and engineering, and a Ph.D. in mathematics.