Two FIU Faculty Administrators enter prestigious leadership academy designed to increase Hispanic senior leaders in higher education

October 13, 2022

By Laura López Ramos

Dr. Yhovana Gordon, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and Dr. Janie Valdés, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management and Services, were accepted to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities' (HACU) fourth cohort of its Leadership Academy, "La Academia de Liderazgo." These two faculty administrators embody the Panther Spirit and share a passion for supporting students by eliminating barriers and expanding access.

From left to right: Antonio Flores, HACU President and CEO; Tito Guerrero III, Director of La Academia de Liderazgo; Yhovana Gordon; and Janie Valdes

Nominated by the Office of the President for this academy, both Gordon and Valdés deeply understand the many layers that impact student success. "We have both been at FIU for about 20 years, and during that time, the Hispanic population in Miami has really diversified, and of course, we see that at FIU. We serve no one if we lump Hispanics into a homogeneous group," Valdés explained.

Gordon recalled her own experience growing up when there was a limited understanding of what it meant to be Hispanic. "I remember in high school, you could select one box:  Black, White, or Hispanic.  There was a systemic lack of understanding of the diversity and cultural richness within the Hispanic community. The fact that Hispanics can be of any race and have distinctive cultural differences; despite sharing a common language, defines the richness of our heritage. There's a complex diversity in this community that goes much deeper than shared language, skin color, or nationality" she reflected.

Roughly one in five college students is Hispanic. However, this representation does not translate to higher education senior leaders, where the rate of Hispanic senior leaders has consistently declined over the past ten years. "These voices are critical at the highest levels. To understand, impact, and drive decision-making in the name of the students you serve, there must be representation." expressed Valdés. HACU's Leadership Academy is a one-year program to prepare the next generation of culturally diverse leaders for senior-level positions in higher education. The academy was designed to increase the number of talented individuals who aspire to leadership positions in Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and emerging HSIs.

Gordon and Valdés are proud to serve the South Florida community through FIU. As alumnae, they have lived the profound impact FIU can have in a student's life and have seen first-hand how FIU has transformed throughout the years to continue supporting student success. "Fifty years ago, FIU was founded to meet the needs of the community, and it has continued to evolve to meet those needs. We are here to serve everyone in this community, so we have a responsibility to ensure equitable access. Anyone can say they are trying to serve everybody equally, but equitable access takes intentional action. Equitable access and adequate support to foster academic success is our responsibility, and it requires intentionality," Gordon stated.

Ranking among the top five public universities in social mobility, FIU has prioritized access as a key measure for student success. Valdés notes that "when FIU evolved to an R1 institution, that never diluted our access mission." Furthermore, she added how FIU's approach to student access and excellence has garnered attention from funding institutions. "Foundations such as NSF, discipline associations, and others are looking to us to diversify disciplines and industries.  That's not going to come from the Ivy Leagues, it’s going to come from places like FIU," she expressed.

As part of the academy, Gordon and Valdés joined the other 37 academy fellows at HACU's 36th Annual Conference in San Diego and will visit Washington, D.C. in the spring for an advocacy seminar. They will also take a trip to abroad focus on international issues in higher education, which will take place during the summer in Guadalajara.

Valdés is particularly excited about connecting with other higher education professionals who share her passion for supporting non-traditional students as well as those working in emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions. “In San Diego, Yhovana and I met with peers who want to build better support for transfer students. This is one of our strengths, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to share our work and learnings,” Valdés said. Gordon is looking forward to the advocacy seminars, as her goal is to break down misconceptions about Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) and HSIs. "There is an implicit bias that must be addressed in higher education. Being an HSI or an MSI does not compromise the quality and caliber of the outcome. It's in our hands to continue to tell our HSI story of success, diversity, and strength.  There is inclusive excellence in everything that we do, and that is who we are," Gordon stated.