No one who met me as a child would have predicted that i would become a leader. I never raised my hand or spoke up. More than anything, I wanted to be invisible to hide from the schoolyard bullies who made my early life difficult.

My father, however, had other plans for me. At his insistence, I joined the speech team in the fourth grade, and by the time I graduated from high school, years of speech competitions had turned me into a polished speaker who could think readily, convey my thoughts, and capture an audience’s attention.

Of course, being able to inspire others through speaking is only one aspect of leadership. Listening with an open mind is also critical. Fortunately, my college and career paths have helped me develop these skills. As I worked toward my clinical psychology license and doctorate, listening and responding compassionately to other people’s experiences became second nature to me.

Today, as provost of The National Hispanic University (NHU), I am fortunate to be in a position to help ensure our students develop a strong identity as they formulate their life goals. The Latino population is the fastest-growing demographic in the United States. It is imperative that we invest in the success of this community by ensuring they have access to quality education. College completion is a high priority at NHU, but it is important that our students leave with much more than just a degree. We want them to have leadership skills that will prepare them to make a difference in their communities.

When I talk to students about leadership, I share my journey from an introverted, picked-on child, to someone who can stand alone, speak with confidence, and listen with compassion. I tell them we all have a voice, something that speaks to our passion and purpose. I encourage them to find and nurture the voice they have been given, and then use their leadership skills to create change in their communities.

My father told me, “You are who you are because you want to be that way.” He meant that we have the ability to achieve our aspirations if we trust our own passion. He helped me become a successful leader. Now I am helping the next generation become leaders.

How has education affected your career?

Education opened the door to my profession and my passion. My parents insisted that I receive an education to escape our life of poverty and hard labor. Their example inspired me to do what I can to provide access to quality education for the Latino community.

What does it take to succeed and stay competitive in your position/field?

Passion, persistence, patience, and the flexibility to understand the evolving landscape of higher education.

Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace? How did you deal with it?

Some people have trouble accepting what I’ve accomplished at my age and as a Latina woman. I’m often the only minority female at meetings. In those moments, I take a deep breath, remind myself that I’m exactly where I need to be for the right reasons, and speak up.