Higher Education and Human Resources

Ferris programs help Latinos hone business skills

Latino Business and Economic Development Center graduates fourth round of students from Talent Initiative, launches Entrepreneurship Initiative.

May 5, 2017
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(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Throughout her 10 years in educational leadership and her work in the nonprofit sector, Lorena Aguayo-Marquez has worn many hats. Now, she wants to focus on the work that truly motivates her.

That’s why Aguayo-Marquez, program assistant for adult education programs at Grand Rapids Community College, signed up for the Latino Talent Initiative, a professional development program established in 2014 by the Latino Business and Economic Development Center (LBEDC) at Ferris State University.

“I’ve honed some of my skills (through the program),” she said. “One of the things I discovered was that I’ve been through a lot of workplaces doing a lot of different things, and I want to use my skills in the ways I’m passionate about.

“I want to focus on human rights and immigration rights.”

The five-month-long Latino Talent Initiative is run by Hispanics for Hispanics. Classes meet from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays, once a month, at the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building at Kendall College of Art and Design.

Carlos Sanchez, director of the LBEDC, said the program begins in October and concludes in March; it consists of an orientation followed by four sessions led by different facilitators on cultural awareness, leadership, professional development and civic engagement.

“The idea is to develop leadership and professional development proficiency among the participants,” he said.

Sanchez said each instructor designs his or her own curriculum to help participants know themselves and others better.

“The thread that connects everything is what I call the Latino experience in a multicultural workplace,” Sanchez said. “How can the Latino professional react in a more positive way toward micro-aggressions they will find in the workplace, and how can they leverage the cultural experience he or she has in the workplace?”

During the second half of orientation, Sanchez brings in an expert on user-centered design to teach students how to solve problems with design thinking. The course requires students to participate in a group service project that focuses on how to meet a community need or fix a persistent problem.

“They identify the need in the community, they come up with the solution, they pitch it to the group and the group selects the top four ideas they want to work on,” Sanchez said. “We divide the group into four subgroups, and they work on (the projects) throughout the program.”

Aguayo-Marquez’s idea was one of the four selected by her cohort of 25 students that graduated in March.

“My project … was called Our Story Matters,” she said. “We did research and decided there isn’t really a place for Mexicans or Latinos to learn their history in this community. There are components, like at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and in the archives at the Grand Rapids Public Library. But what doesn’t get covered is the oral history that gets passed on from generation to generation. We need to collect it from the elders. There are a lot of Mexicans and Latinos who have made a difference in the community, and the stories need to be heard.”

She and her group members decided to test the waters for creating a Latino Museum of Fine Arts, which would incorporate music, art, history and a community center.

“You want to make sure there is a positive image of Latinos in Grand Rapids and West Michigan,” Aguayo-Marquez said. “And that’s how we developed the museum idea, so we can archive and tell our story, not have others tell our story.

“We did research. I interviewed people in the community, and then for the people I was not able to interview, we did surveys seeking feedback about whether you would be supportive of this and would you be part of it.”

Aguayo-Marquez said her group decided there was enough interest in the project to make it viable, but planning is on hold until they can find someone who has the time to invest in creating a high-quality museum.

“One of the things (we) talked about was to focus on this in the next year or two. In order to be effective, we have to find someone who has the time to lead it,” she said.

Sanchez said outcomes like this one are part of the process during the Talent Initiative.

“My intention is not for them to come up with a perfect solution but to learn the user-centered design process,” he said.

“The definition of user-centered design is it’s a good way to test their assumptions of a problem and develop a solution that is based on the innate knowledge of the residents. We tell them to go out and survey the people, talk to them and then, based on that, develop the solution rather than come up with a solution on their own.”

While she contemplates the museum idea, Aguayo-Marquez said the program has helped her make connections in the Latino business community and has solidified her personal goal of continuing to be involved with the local offshoot of A Day Without Immigrants, the Cosecha Movement. The group is a nonviolent movement working on getting permanent protection for all immigrants.

“I’m working on this as a volunteer in my free time with people in the community who want to bring awareness of the separation of parents and families and children even though the students are U.S. citizens,” she said.

Following the growth of the Latino Talent Initiative — the program has had about 60 graduates in four years — Sanchez also recently launched the Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative.

The inaugural class began March 7 and the program runs 11 weeks from 6-9 p.m. every Tuesday at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, 1204 Grandville Ave. SW.

Sanchez said he patterned the Entrepreneurship Initiative after an entrepreneurship program he once led called Spring GR. The difference is the Latino version is translated into Spanish to help bilinguals understand complex concepts in their first language.

He said the program will focus on helping those with business ideas find out if they want to follow through as entrepreneurs, as well as helping participants launch new, mostly lifestyle, businesses.

“The Entrepreneurship Initiative starts by having the participant identify a need, develop a solution, identify the client and develop a unique solution for that problem that is marketable,” he said.

The first class currently has 19 participants.

Sanchez said the program received a $20,000 grant from the city of Grand Rapids for two pilot cohorts, one in the spring and one in the fall, as well as support from Chemical Bank to pay for food, materials, babysitting and the cost of attendees participating in the Latino Business Pitch Competition in the fall.

“What we try to do is lower the possible barriers for the participants, so we provide the food — and the location is the Hispanic Center, which is centrally located — child care and the materials,” he said. “We charge each participant about $100 but the (curriculum) license we pay is much more than that, so it’s a good return on investment for the participant.

“I’m happy the Latino community has received this very well, and the non-Latino community has been very supportive.”

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