Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

An 'Ally and Partner'

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

An 'Ally and Partner'

Article excerpt

White House Hispanic education leader seeks to build links to educators, improve visibility of HSIs with federal agencies.

Whether working to improve nonprofit organizations or directing the Obama campaign in Texas, Juan Sepulveda has learned the importance of what he calls "crowdsourcing," or encouraging widespread input from diverse participants to develop better public policy.

"The more people you get involved, the more unique ideas you'll receive," he says. Now Sepúlveda brings those ideas to Washington, D.C., in his new job as executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Headquartered at the U.S. Education Department, the initiative is a high-profile perch through which Hispanic-serving colleges and Latino education leaders can provide input on issues from preschool through higher education.

Sepúlveda, 46, joined the department after directing President Barack Obama's campaign in Texas in 2008. From 1995 through 2008, he was the founding president of The Common Enterprise, created by the Rockefeller Foundation as a full-service management consulting firm to help improve the operations of nonprofit organizations.

In his work for the previous 13 years, he saw the value of developing new ways to encourage public input. He has continued that with the White House initiative, embarking on visits this summer and fall to 18 states and Puerto Rico.

"A lot of people in education day in and day out didn't know we existed," he tells Diverse, even though this White House initiative dates to 1990. Too often, he says, "People assumed it was a new project."

While longtime HSIs are familiar with the White House initiative, some new HSIs as well as K-12 urban school superintendents had little knowledge of the office.

"We realized we needed to create a network," he says. "Our message to them is that you have an ally and a partner."

Sepúlveda has conducted listening sessions in diverse settings, often at a community college but sometimes at a large K-12 school district. Rather than delivering a long speech, he encourages input using the "Kiva" process, developed by Native Americans to promote analysis and reflection through structured group activities. Up to 300 people have tended these forums, and he says the sessions also help participants make new contacts within their communities. As a result, such "crowdsourcing" produces a win-win situation for the White House initiative as well as states and localities. …

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