Editor's note: In my SPAN 332 "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course, students must work on a community-based group project. This semester, one of the teams worked on creating profiles of former students of Spanish who have gone on to be entrepreneurs or work in an entrepreneurial environment. I'm so proud of these former students and their stories. --Ann Abbott
Jessie exemplifies social entrepreneurship in her daily work.
As the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (IHCC), I assist Hispanic and other minority business owners develop strategic marketing and public relations campaigns. With the help of my colleagues, we are able to serve Hispanic business owners, providing free business, economic development and educational resources to enhance business practices and increase the success of Hispanic businesses.
Currently the Hispanic community is growing at a faster rate than any other group. By 2050, one third of the U.S. population will be Hispanic. However, U.S. Hispanic households still earn a full one-third less than non-Hispanic white families and most Hispanic-owned businesses are small, both in terms of revenue and employees on payroll. Our work at the IHCC focuses on empowering Hispanic business owners in order to build wealth within a community that will drive both population and economic growth into the future.
The Spanish program at UIUC has been very helpful for Jessie in her career path.
The ability to speak Spanish not only has helped me to communicate with clients, but it also has helped me to connect and build relationships. Although many of my counseling sessions are held in English/“Spanglish”, pleasantries at the beginning of a meeting (“Buenos días,” “Cómo están sus hijos,” etc.) are often exchanged in Spanish. These short phrases allow me to personally relate to a client and build trust.
In addition to actually speaking Spanish, the insight I gained by participating in volunteer opportunities through UIUC’s Spanish program has also been tremendously useful. Through volunteering in the Champaign-Urbana community, I was able to immerse myself into local Hispanic culture. I gained a deeper understanding about issues such as immigration reform and the Dream Act, inspiring me in my current career endeavors to advocate on behalf of the Hispanic community.
Jessie offers advice to aspiring Spanish students.
The only way to learn a language is to practice. Learning a second language is not like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. I would advise all aspiring Spanish students to take advantage of every opportunity the university has to offer, from intercambios to study abroad programs. As much as classroom exercises are useful, the only way to truly learn is to immerse yourself into the culture.
It is clear that my ability to speak Spanish and my experience in the Spanish program at UIUC has opened doors to professional opportunities. In today’s job market, the ability to speak another language (Spanish in particular) and connect to different cultural groups is not just beneficial; it is crucial.
As with any job, there are pros and cons to Jessie’s career.
It brings me joy to see others succeed. One element of my job is to promote the success of Hispanic business owners to our extensive network of corporate leaders, government officials and business professionals. Every day a client contacts me to report a new success, such as winning a large contract, hiring a new employee, launching a new website, or receiving a prestigious recognition. The list goes on. It brings me joy to see them succeed and to know that our work directly contributes to building wealth and job opportunities in the community.
It’s always challenging to see a client struggle. Owning a small business requires a significant investment of time, energy and capital, especially in the beginning. Many of the small businesses I see are new companies and the owners are almost always overworked and underpaid. It always brings me joy to see a client chasing his/her dream, but it is also difficult at times to see someone struggling.
I am proud to be part of an organization that directly works with such individuals to provide critical resources to promote their success.