CHICAGO (NNS) -- A Department of Defense official joined educators, civic and business leaders, and a former NASA astronaut to address thousands of high school students from the greater Chicago area during the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) national conference here Feb. 16.
Capt. Kenneth J. Barrett, deputy director, Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity for the Department of Defense, opened the conference's student leadership series by talking about the numerous career opportunities within the department.
"We are one of the nation's largest employers," Barrett said. "There are approximately three million people who work in the Department of Defense. Approximately 1.2 million people serve in uniform on active-duty, another 1.1 million who serve in uniform in the Reserve, and close to 800,000 who work as government civilians in all types of roles, from engineering to finance."
"There are so many different career opportunities in the department," said Barrett. "I want to dispel the idea that the only careers in the department focus on flying an aircraft, carrying a rifle or driving a ship. Today, there are literally hundreds of careers and opportunities in the military: from cyber security, to undersea warfare, rocket science, to business administration, and so much more. I want to you tell your parents that your X Box is really a training program for one day flying unmanned aircraft or UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], one of our fastest growing fields."
This year marks the 30th national conference hosted by USHLI, whose mission is to attract leaders from more than 40 states and 1,000 affiliated groups and organizations; and train a broad cross section of Hispanic leaders by promoting education, unity and leadership development and creating a servant leadership community.
For Juan Andrade, Jr., president of USHLI, being a partner with the Department of Defense has clear advantages.
"It allows us an opportunity to build a more effective pipeline from the Latino community into the upper leadership within the defense establishment," said Andrade. "It also provides an opportunity for Hispanic youth to serve their country and educate themselves at the same time."
"For America to remain strong, it needs to have Latino leaders in the upper echelons of the military," said Andrade. "The pipeline is there but we need to infuse it with energy and more young Latinos attending military service academies and taking advantage of Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarships."
To build a more robust pipeline to the upper echelons of the Department of Defense, USHLI is committed to encouraging its youth to pursue higher education, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Jose Hernandez, engineer and former NASA astronaut, motivated students to pursue college degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
Hernandez told his story of humble beginnings that took a young Hispanic boy - whose parents only received a third-grade education and the whole family was involved with migrant farming - from the farm fields of California to blasting off in a space shuttle destined for the international space station.
"My message for today was about empowerment," said Hernandez. "They heard my story, and my story is no different from theirs. Most of us come from humble beginnings. They heard my father's recipe for success. I wanted them to see themselves in my example and ask themselves, 'If Jose can do it, why can't I?'"
Hernandez also emphasized the importance of being involved in community affairs, as way of giving back after students have acquired their education and landed that fabulous career with a high paying salary.
"We all have a civic responsibility to get involved within our respective communities if we have the ability to make a difference, and everyone has the ability to make a difference," said Hernandez. "It's how you make a difference that is most important. Speaking here today, at the grassroots level, is one way I can make a difference."
"Being engaged with organizations like USHLI is important because they are making a big difference in their respective communities and share our core values," said Barrett. "They tell young people to stay in school, never give up, and stay focused on your dreams. All of these values coincide with what the Department of Defense exemplifies."
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