Good Investment

Laura Donnelly began her college career as a computer science major but ultimately graduated with a degree in journalism, and founded the non-profit Latinitas in 2002. What began as a program to teach young girls to be better communicators has expanded into the digital space, and this year received $30,000 from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) via its Empower Hispanic Americans with Technology (EHAT) initiative to open a technology lab and provide computer classes for Latinitas and their families

“I feel like I’m circling back, doing code with the students, who are now teaching me,” Donnelly admits.

In 2010, President Obama began to ramp-up activity related to preparing a workforce to fill future jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), including girls. One program, Equal Futures Partnerships, involves federal science and technology agencies, private corporations, and academic institutions to pull resources, financial and intellectual, to find ways to get more girls involved in STEM.

GM was one of those companies, announcing last year that the GM Foundation would give $1 million in donations to six national Latino non-profit organizations. LULAC was one of those six, receiving funds for EHAT to distribute the money among five chapters located near a GM facility to support efforts by grass roots organizations. One of those lucky nonprofits was Latinitas, based in Austin, where GM’s Tech Center is also located.

“LULAC issued a request for proposals for agencies providing tech access and training,” shares Donnelly. “I heard about it by word-of-mouth. GM utilized a good formula, using a historical cultural institution to find these projects like ours. Latinitas has been delivering media and tech training since it began. This information may not get mainstream coverage that other projects get, but LULAC found us.”

The Latinitas program invites Latino families to attend free workshops from 10 a.m.–noon every fourth Saturday of the month through January of 2017. Each session will focus on different topics, like robotics, blogging, podcasting, and college readiness.

 “With these new resources, the community will have access to state-of-the-art technology and resources which can be used to give Latino youth access to STEM programs,” said LULAC Executive Director Brent Wilkes. “These resources will be offered free of charge. By exposing youth to STEM programs at an early age, we hope to encourage greater participation in STEM related careers.”

GM’s commitment to diversity is multipronged. Along with giving back, the company established employee resource groups to provide mentoring and support for its employees. The GM resource group for Latino employees, the Hispanic Initiatives Team (HIT), took on the job of securing the donation from the GM Foundation.

Angela de Hoyos, STEM Initiatives Chair GM HIT National and an alumnus of the first Latinitas program, shares that the five communities selected to participate (Waukegan, Detroit, Phoenix, Arlington, and Austin) were selected based on the level of impact they could have and their proximity to GM technology or manufacturing centers for access to additional resources, from expertise to technology. In the case of Latinitas, she noticed that all the desktop computers shared the same wi-fi connection, slowing down the Internet feed. De Hoyas arranged for GM’s IT experts to rewire the computers directly to individual modems to speed them up.

“I worked at several of the biggest names in technology, Dell, Google, but none has worked this hard, talked the talk, and walked the walk like GM,” de Hoyos asserts. “The Tech Center in Austin also includes diversity minded hiring that has produced an incredibly diverse workforce. It’s been a great experience.”

Valerie Menard