Latina's Day challenges students to dream big
Contact: Office of University Relations 956/381-2741
Posted: 09/26/2007
Share |

With a focus on inspiring female high school students to dream big, Latinas Day, the third day of Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American, hosted nearly 1,000 Rio Grande Valley students and their mothers Sept. 26 to learn more about the opportunities to fulfill those dreams.

The audience of ninth grade GEAR UP students, along with their mother or other significant family member including grandmothers, aunts, and little sisters got to hear from some of the most accomplished Hispanic women in the nation from all sectors - government, corporations and educational institutions - during the daylong event designed to encourage and interest Latina students to pursue higher education and careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in particular.

U.S. Navy Commander Mery-Angela S. Katson addressed female Valley students and their mothers during HESTEC Latinas Day Oct. 26 at UTPA.
At the day's kick-off breakfast, keynote speaker Mery-Angela S. Katson, commander of the U.S. Navy's San Antonio Military Entrance and Processing Station, first relayed her own story of challenges she faced growing up.

Her father, a field and factory worker, died a year after bringing his wife, a homemaker, and their six children - ranging from 18 months to 11 years old - to the United States from South America. Dealing with an unknown culture and language but displaying a daily drive and determination, Katson's mother worked three jobs to support her family.

Years later, at age 17, Katson, the oldest daughter, told her mother that she had a dream "to see more, do more, experience more, and especially to learn more" and said she found the U.S. Navy as the ticket to achieve her dream.

Although her mother first protested her daughter leaving the family and home, Katson said she was eventually blessed with her mother's approval and support.

"My mother said 'Follow your dreams. Make them a reality,'" Katson concluded. "That was my dream 26 years ago."

Since her enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1981, Katson has risen through assignments of increasing authority and responsibility. Through programs such as the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) and a Navy ROTC fully paid scholarship, she was able to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of San Diego. She also was also able to earn her master's degree in manpower system analysis from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, Calif. Since then, she has served many assignments including those in Europe before assuming her current post. During her military career, she has also earned numerous awards and decorations including three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals.

Katson described the many benefits that the Navy provides to those who enlist including global health care, tax free income, family medical benefits, world wide travel, and a college education. It offers opportunities in more than 100 fields, she said, from medicine to aviation.

"I've seen more, done more, experienced more and definitely learned more than I could have ever imagined," she said.

She said the Navy not only develops, educates and trains leaders for the Navy but also the skills learned are transferable to leadership roles in corporate America. Opportunities to learn more about what the Navy offers will be available at the HESTEC Career Expo at the UTPA Fieldhouse on Sept. 28 and a booth at Community Day on Sept. 29.

"We Latinas have so much to offer and yet we are so underrepresented in the military. I represent four percent of the Hispanic officers in the Navy today. Diversity is critical to our mission accomplishment," she said.

Katson ended her presentation by encouraging the students to finish school.

"Get your diploma - this is the key that opens the doors to the American dream," she said.

Invited to participate in the day, Judge Letty Lopez of the 389th District Court and State Representative Veronica Gonzales for the 41st District, said they came to show that young Valley women not only have the support of their families but also from their community.

Lopez, a 1985 UTPA alumna, said Latinas Day gives young women in the Valley a chance to see the opportunities available to them.

"By showing them a live person, it shows them it is possible," she said.

Gonzales said she came to Latinas Day because not too long ago she was a young girl looking for opportunities and what she wanted to do in life.

"This event shows the unity between families, mothers and daughters and how important it is to have that support system. I want them to also see that they are being supported by their community and by leaders in their community that care about them and want them to have opportunities," she said.

Substitute teacher Rosalinda Galvan accompanied her daughter Stephanie Moctezuma, a student at Veterans Memorial Academy in San Benito, to Latinas Day. Galvan said Katson had her in tears and was glad to see she went ahead and pursued her goal.

"She (Katson) went for it. This is what we have to tell our daughters - if you want that, you go for it, we are behind you - the mothers," Galvan said.

Moctezuma said a having a career is important to her. "I am looking forward to going to college 100 percent. I do have a dream. I want to be an anesthesiologist," she said. The girls and their mothers attended several breakout sessions throughout the day and heard from Latina leaders with companies such as ExxonMobil, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Shell Oil, Raytheon, State Farm, as well as others. Monica Saenz, director for Offshore and Texas Gulf Coast Crude Pipelines in the business development department of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company talked to the students about her experience as a mechanical engineer, as well as her thoughts about HESTEC.


Adriana Mata, a ninth grade student at Edinburg Economedes High School, gave a greeting card to her grandmother, Thelma Molina, for being the most influential person in her life.
"I think this event is invaluable," she said. "Hopefully this experience will help you make the right decisions or at least be informed when you enter college and encourage you to take advantage of the time you have there."

Saenz, who has been coming to Latinas Day for three years, said she hopes young Latinas will leave with the confidence to pursue their dreams and have the support they need from their families.

"I love to see the moms, grandmas and the tías come here with their daughters and family and encourage them," she said. "Don't be afraid of the opportunities that come along, and to try different things and change your mind."

Saenz told the attendees that the decision to go to college will make a big impact on them throughout the course of their life.

Esmeralda Rivera, of Rio Grande City attended Latinas Day with her daughter, Anayza, for the first time and said she was most impressed with the amount of information that was given.

"This is our first year here and I'm very excited because there is a lot of information that's being given out," she said. "If I had this information when I went to school and if my parents were there for me, then maybe I would have done things differently."

Esmeralda said the most important thing she learned during the day was that a person's background does not matter. She is even thinking of returning to college herself.

"I'm thinking of going to college after hearing from all of these ladies and seeing that they come from my same background. It's really encouraging me to want to take classes to make a better life for myself and for my three daughters," she said. "It (HESTEC) really opened up my eyes and showed me that it's never too late to go back."

Anayza, a freshman at Rio Grande City High School, said she was glad she jumped on the opportunity and signed up to come to Latinas Day.

"I'm really proud to have my mom here by my side supporting me too. Without her I wouldn't be here," she said.

Although she had a career path in mind before she attended HESTEC, Anayza said she was rethinking it after taking part in the breakout sessions.

"I wanted to be a lawyer, but after hearing from the engineers, it opened my eyes to something else that I may be interested in," she said. "I really got a lot of good information so far."


During the Latinas Day luncheon, Patricia E. Loera, Esq., senior program officer for education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was awarded the HESTEC Latina Pioneer Award. The annual award is given to individuals for their outstanding achievement in contributing to the advancement of Latina education throughout the nation.

Dr. Roland Arriola, vice president for Community Engagement and HESTEC national committee chair, said Loera serves as an inspiration to Hispanics across the nation, and is a woman who has accomplished so much in spite of many obstacles.

"For the past few years Patricia has worked hard to make sure that all students have better educational opportunities, and it is for this reason that we are recognizing her," Arriola said.

At the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest foundations in the world, Loera is responsible for leading the Foundation's strategy and managing investments to ensure that all students graduate "college-ready" in the state of Texas, focusing especially on the achievement of African-American and Hispanic students.

"Today is a great day, a day to pause and reflect, and celebrate Latinas, young women, and especially celebrate the special bond between mothers and daughters," Loera said after accepting the award.

Loera shared with the audience the story of how she became the person she is today, discussed the role she plays in the Foundation in helping Latinas in the STEM fields, and also talked about the future and opportunities available for Latinas.

She talked about her mother's courage in raising a family with five children on her own after her father died when she was 13 years old, and how her family became migrant farmworkers to make ends meet.

Dr. Roland Arriola, vice president for Community Engagement, presents the Latina Pioneer Award to Patricia Loera, senior program officer for Education, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during HESTEC Latinas Day.
Loera said her parents walked to United States with nothing but a dream for a better future not only for themselves, but for their children too.

"My parents always said to me that my inheritance will not be in the material world; there will be no monetary fortune left for me in a will. My inheritance will be my work ethic, my faith, my family and my education. No one can take that away from me," she said.

She encouraged students to travel far, meet many people, make money, and to always remember where they come from.

In her lifetime, Loera said she has had many "firsts" including the first in her family to go to and graduate from college, and also the first Latina to be hired by the Foundation.

"I have to tell you one thing that I have been dedicated to my entire life and that is that I will never ever be the last in anything because I will always make sure to open that pipeline for other Latinas," she said.

Prior to assuming her current position, she served as the legislative director for the National Association for Bilingual Education, in Washington, D.C. where she worked very closely with Congressional staff, the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and other education and civil rights associations to ensure that students who do not speak English received appropriate support to keep up with their academic courses while they were also learning English.

Loera received her undergraduate degree in political science and Spanish with honors from Central Washington University and her law degree from the University of Washington. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Washington.

On Thursday, Sept. 27 U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will address high school students and business and community members during HESTEC Robotics Day. Pelosi will talk about her "Innovation Agenda" which seeks to add 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers to the American work force by the year 2010.

Students will also be able to participate in a daylong agenda of exciting competitions and team-building exercises designed to spark their interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and technology) fields.

For more information on HESTEC, call 956/381-3361 or visit