As a former member of the California State University Board of Trustees, attorney Melinda Guzman recognizes that the increasing role of Hispanics in higher education and business will help the economy.
"It is critical to California's economy and to the nation's economy that we educate Latinos so that we can have a growing and thriving economy," said Ms. Guzman, CEO of Melinda Guzman Professional Corp. "If we don't, we have failed ourselves and our state as a nation."
Having served as a trustee of the California State University system for eight years and as a former member of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, Ms. Guzman understands the value of education.
With pressure building on California to attract college graduates from out of state in order to maintain economic growth, Ms. Guzman said, the solution is to graduate Hispanics from high school and send them to college. Better early education in math and reading will only help increase the number of students, she said.
"2013 marks the first time in the history of the state that Latinos are a majority population in California," Ms. Guzman said. "As a result, making sure Latinos are educated in K-12 as well as going to college is very important."
Although Ms. Guzman now has a long list of educational accomplishments to her name, she comes from humble beginnings. Raised by farmworker parents in Fairfield, Calif., she learned the value of education from her father, who, despite not receiving much education himself, encouraged his daughter to pursue higher learning.
Ms. Guzman was a first-generation college student, and although many young Hispanics are now enrolled in four-year universities, she continues her educational outreach in the Hispanic community.
"She clearly has a passion for education in the community; she has been a community leader and proponent of educating the Latino community in California," said Ernie Gutierrez, chairman of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. "Being the first Latina to serve (on the board of trustees) is an inspiration to other Latinas throughout California. She's been instrumental."
Guzman's role in education has given her another venue besides her legal work to make a broader impact on young Hispanics.
"She's an excellent role model; she's not only a college graduate (but also) a law school graduate, (and a) practicing attorney," Mr. Gutierrez said. "I think she is very impressive as a role model, just on her credentials alone and being a successful businesswoman as well."
Hispanics in the Workforce
As the first Hispanic woman to be named partner in a nonminority-owned firm in Sacramento and the first woman to serve as chair of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Ms. Guzman is a pioneer in many areas of her field. She likes seeing the growing number of Hispanics moving into executive positions, noting the significance that diversity has in influencing company policies.
"People in executive and management positions tend to create policies for their companies, and they set the tone for everything that is going on in the workforce," Ms. Guzman said. "So the more diverse that group is, the more embracive, more inclusive the policies will be in those businesses."
Hispanic enterprises can play a major role in rebuilding the world economy, Ms. Guzman noted, citing Latina-owned businesses as the fastest-growing business segment among women-owned enterprises.
"California's economy is the 10th-largest global economy; that alone shows you the potential impact that we have in the global economy," Ms. Guzman said. "So the more we do to impact the growth and development of Latino business, the more we will impact the international markets and the global economy."
With many accolades bestowed upon Ms. Guzman, including being an independent director for the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, she feels she still has more to do to serve the Hispanic community and to help develop small businesses in her role as general counsel to numerous companies.
"The future is Latino in many respects, and I have always said that Latinos are California's economic opportunity for growth and development," Ms. Guzman said. "And that's why it is so critical we educate them, because the future is really in their minds."
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