GM Diversity: Hispanic Initiative Team (HIT)

GM HIT Member Takes Time to Make a Difference for Fellow First Generation Hispanic College Students

By Employee Journalist Aaron Peavey, Global Portfolio Strategy Analyst

It’s 7am on a Saturday and I’m headed to Detroit to take part in the “Steps for Success Saturday” program at Wayne State University.  This program was developed by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and has been co-sponsored by the General Motors Foundation.  As a member of GM’s Hispanic Initiative Team, I was given the opportunity to participate in this program in order to share my story with some local students in the Hispanic community.  The program invites middle and high school students and their families to learn about the prospects of college. The agenda includes sessions on college preparation, information on the college experience and perhaps most important for the parents, an explanation of the college costs and how they can be managed.

Upon arrival to WSU, I am pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the urban campus.  The university buildings include a mixture of old and new architecture.  I take a brief stroll around central campus and happen upon sculptures of Lasalle and Cadillac.  For the automotive historians, you’ll remember the LaSalle name from early in GM’s history and, of course GM has been the steward of the Cadillac name for over 100 years now.  As a GM employee, I figure I must be in the right place.  I arrive at the General Lectures building 45 minutes early and find that there are already students and family members present.  I spend the next few minutes meeting WSU staff.  They share their excitement about the prospects of the day and are very grateful that GM has sponsored the event.     

The day kicks off with opening remarks that include comments by Alma Crossley, GM Director of Corporate Diversity.  Alma shares her personal story about how she was a first generation college student and how it came to be that she is now an executive at General Motors.  She points out that when she was a young girl her father explained to her that “there is nothing more important than your education”.  She advises students to look at the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields; These are the fields that are in high demand today and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.  Alma also refers to her “P’s for Success”

People – surround yourself by positive people

Parents – listen to them, they care

Passion – If you have passion, you will succeed

Perseverance – You can do it, don’t give up

Prayer – Believe in something greater than yourself      

Upon completion of the opening remarks we are directed to grade-level based workshops.  There are 9 workshops planned for the students and 2 workshops for the parents.  The 6th – 8th graders attend sessions that are meant to expose them to the idea of college.  One of my favorite activities with this group was the “Career Reality Store”.  Basically it involves the students creating a monthly budget.  In the exercise the students are provided with a random socio-economic status via a game card.  The card includes an occupation including paycheck, a family, a house, etc.  One student is a taxi driver another is a doctor, with various other occupations in between.  Students move through stations in the classroom making purchases.  They buy cars and groceries, pay utility bills and child care expenses.  At the end of the exercise the students discover how much of their paycheck remains or how much they are short.  It’s  a simple, but dramatic exercise and the students got the point.  The 9th and 10th grade workshops focus on how to choose the right college and how to increase your chances for college admission.   The 11th and 12th graders’ focus on scholarship applications and other forms of financial aid and conclude with the college admissions process.  Overall, the entire agenda was well thought out executed nicely. Throughout the process, WSU student volunteers did a great job ushering us to and from the appropriate rooms.           

At the conclusion of the formal events I had a chance to sit and talk with several students and family members.  One particular student attended the workshop with her mother and brother.  She is currently a high school senior.  She expressed that she is somewhat nervous about college especially since she’s still trying to figure out how to pay for it.  She recently decided that she would like to study Communications and International Relations.  She heard about today’s events through a flier posted at her church.  I relayed to her that by showing up this morning she was already showing the type of initiative and commitment it takes to ensure her success.          

Sylvia Pertzborn, National Director of Outreach Programs at HSF noted that the one thing she would like to tell students is that “…college is possible with the right preparation.  By informing themselves and seeking out the info they need, it is possible”.  Her experience shows that more than half of today’s attendees are to be 1st generation college students.  It is clear that there is still a lot of work to do to build a legacy of college education in the Hispanic community.  She also expressed her gratitude to GM for sponsoring the event; it had been 6 years since HSF had last been to Detroit.  

As I end my day I think to myself how happy I am that GM has given me this opportunity.  I feel fortunate to have spent my day with students that are sure to be our next generation of engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, etc.  Throughout the day I had several chances to share my story with a student or a family.  The students heard that my story was much like their own; I too was a first generation college student.  As I reflect back upon the day, I think about the many other outreach opportunities that General Motors has made possible for all of us.  I would encourage each of us to take a moment of our time to positively influence the life of a young person, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  I attended the session with a goal to help inspire a student, similar to how I was inspired years ago.  I left the event energized by the students and more enthused to be a part of our GM family, without which today’s event would never have been possible.