We’re continuing our celebration of Hispanic Heritage week by honoring brilliant woman in technology-focused careers. This week, we’re recognizing Jaqueline Cortez Wang who has had an extraordinary career that began with an internship at NASA and later lead to an opportunity to serve as a Deputy Director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
The native Texan, and proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, thought she was destined to work in a hometown business. As a high school student, Jaqueline joined a cooperative education program where she reluctantly accepted an internship at NASA. Once in the doors, she embraced all opportunities and held a variety of positions that included being a secretary, managing contracts to then supporting a new education department where she led the development of youth education programs focused on motivating young students to pursue careers in STEM.
The education program allowed her to work closely with educators and parents within the community and it was then that she saw firsthand how Latino parents learned alongside their children. The experience reminded her how important it is to reach out to neighbors and friends. Jaqueline expressed how we are sometimes too busy and forget about the impact we can have in the community – it’s important to remember our purpose and that we are empowered to influence change.
After leading initiatives at NASA, and earning a dual Bachelor of Business Administration in Management and Marketing, and a Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural Studies, Jaqueline moved to Washington D.C. where she landed at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach. It was there that Jaqueline became instrumental in the development and execution of public affairs, public engagement, and education efforts focused on Hispanic stakeholders. She led the project strategy and development of the Initiative’s 25th anniversary call for Commitments to Action, resulting in a collective investment of over $335 million from the public and private sectors, which built on and accelerated federal, state, and local investments in high-quality education for the Hispanic community.
Although Jaqueline has had a successful career to date, the biggest obstacle she faced was understanding herself and what she truly wanted. “Coming from an immigrant family you are just so grateful to work and get paid. You begin to feel selfish and guilty that you want something that is more fulfilling,” says Jaqueline. “Giving ourselves permission to find the thing that drives us, is when greater things happen for ourselves and for our community.”
Jaqueline would tell her younger self to ignore a common expression of “qué va a decir la gente”, or what will they say? Jaqueline explains how that phrase in the Latino community can sometimes influence decisions, because there will always be someone that’s upset with decisions that are not made in their favor. “Stop caring what other people are going to say about you. Own yourself and who you are and put everything else to the side.”
When discussing what advice to give someone that is looking to grow in their career, Jaqueline says that while it’s important to have a mentor, it’s even more important to align yourself with advocates. Those are the people that are willing to say your name in front of decision makers and connect you with your ideal role. “Building authentic relationships with people that believe in you and understand you is so valuable. Remember to stay true to your life’s mission and your authentic self.”
This article was written by Tanya Salcido.
Tanya is a co-founder of #LatinaGeeks and serves as the organization’s Administrative Director. She’s a digital marketer by trade and although she’s driven and dedicated to her career in education technology, she doesn’t believe in being all work and no play. Tanya loves exploring California’s wine regions, cooking, and watching 80s movie classics. Connect with her on LinkedIn.