Staff News

Academic advisor taps into an ‘astounding’ network of Latinas

January 27, 2015 by Cindy O'Dell
Latinas Karina Quintanilla (left) and HOPE Leadership Institute co-founder Carrie Lopez.

Karina Quintanilla (left) and HOPE Leadership Institute co-founder Carrie Lopez.

Academic advisor Karina Quintanilla is one of three women from the Inland Empire and one of only 24 women statewide chosen for this year’s Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) Leadership Institute.

The program is the only statewide leadership program specifically designed for professional Latinas in California. Its goal is to help the women develop advocacy and leadership skills that will enable them to make changes in their local neighborhoods and across California.

The first of the program’s five 3-to-4-day training sessions was held in Sacramento over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

“I felt excited before but felt like I had been put in a catapult after,” said Quintanilla about the first session which focused on civic engagement. From the “astounding” networking, to the sessions on the science behind election campaigns, Quintanilla, who works at the Palm Desert campus, said she experienced a sense of solidarity with her fellow participants that left her describing her feelings as “effervescent,” when asked in the closing session to use one word to describe her reaction to the weekend.

“A lot of us Type A individuals expect to do more work than others. But to be in a room full of women with such diverse backgrounds and all be willing to work so hard and say ‘teach me, show me, direct me’ without ego was just incredible,” she said. She said other participants said the program had left them “uplifted, energized, amazed, grateful, blessed, overwhelmed, joyous.”

Quintanilla said the most important thing she learned was you don’t have to wait until you feel ready to start working toward a goal. “We tend to limit ourselves by thinking we have to master something before we launch ourselves. We know our community and that alone makes us qualified to represent them,” she said.

Quintanilla once thought she might run for a county education seat sometime in the distant future. Now she’s weighing whether to put her name in to fill a vacancy on the Citizen’s Oversight Committee for the College of the Desert, an opening she learned about through her HOPE Leadership network.

“Having worked in higher education for a while, this is definitely a passion. I would love to have input at the state level, to let them know what the reality is now for students,” she said. Among the issues students struggle with are community college impaction, financial aid and for Brandman students, juggling the responsibilities of jobs and family, often as heads of households.

Education isn’t her only interest.

“I think there’s definitely a need to rally more attention to what’s going on at the Salton Sea,” she said pointing to the impact of agricultural runoff, pesticides and fish die-offs on air quality and quality of life in general. It’s only when the sea’s stench reaches the L.A. basin that people start to notice it. “People see it as an isolated area until that happens,” she said.

Quintanilla spends her day helping Brandman students navigate their way to a degree as an academic advisor. She’s also working on advancing her own education. In fact, it was her academic advisor for the master’s program for public administration, Carmen González, who encouraged her to apply for the leadership institute.

Quintanilla grew up in Tijuana and has lived in the Palm Desert area for the last 30 years, except while attending UC Riverside. She graded from there with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 2004.

“I’ve always had an interest in politics, from when I first learned what the Electoral College is,” she said. During the 2012 election, she worked with Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes), a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that works to get the vote out by providing transportation.

She is particularly passionate about getting high school students to study civics earlier and to understand the foundations of democracy including the importance of registering to vote.

She’s been at Brandman for the last 11 months. In addition to work, school and the institute, she’s also the mother to girls, 12 and 9.

“There were women of all ages at the institute, but it was a minority of us that were moms,” she said.

Karina Quintanilla

Karina Quintanilla makes as speech while portraying candidate Eddie Diaz in a mock campaign.

The session focused on understanding how campaigns are run and culminated in a mock campaign for Eddie Diaz. Quintanilla got to play the candidate. The participants also learned from each other.

“At every break, we asked each other, ‘What do you do? How can we overlap?’ We had field representatives for assembly members, a member of the Riverside County Board of Education, women serving on city councils, lobbyists, lawyers, managers for Pacific Gas and Electric and the Port of Oakland. It was quite an array,” she said.

Quintanilla was also educating her fellow participants about education issues, including what Common Core looks like from a parent’s perspective.

The institutes next session will be the Latina History Day Conference in Los Angeles on March 13. “I can’t wait for the final session in Washington D.C. I’ve never been and think what a great way to go there for the first time,” she said.

HOPE was founded in 1989, according to the fact sheet on its website. In addition to sponsoring the Latina History Day Conference, they hold a Latina Action Day Sacramento Conference in May, a youth leadership program and other networking opportunities.

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