Paola Jessurun

Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities

Location: Washington, D.C.

"I am proud to stand up for Latina rights."

I have found many ways to lean in since I began my internship with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) in DC. I moved far away from home and loved ones in Puerto Rico to step outside my comfort zone into a new challenge. I have always been a strong advocate for female empowerment, but being in D.C. sparked my interest in becoming more active. I became a HACU coach for Lean In Circles, which gives me a space to truly and freely advocate for Latinas and to address the unique challenges and opportunities we face. I am proud to stand up for Latina rights.

As Latinas we are part of two minority groups in the workforce. Even though that is rapidly changing, there is still a long road ahead. I want to be a part of paving that road, and making it an easier one for Latina women to take.

I realized that if I want to advocate for others, I also have to advocate for myself. I have become more willing to put myself in leadership positions. I've always thought of myself as a leader but have been skeptical because I didn’t know what people would think of me. But I realized that if I have a good idea, why shouldn’t I lead the way? Now I step up to the plate, and even if I have to give myself a constant pep talk (pretty sure I’m not the only one out there who does it!), I enjoy being the person people turn to for guidance.

I have also been inspired to find the courage to ask for more in the work environment. At the beginning of the internship I felt that I had to be okay with any task I was assigned and just passively comply. But now I feel inspired to ask for more and to seek out more challenging roles. My supervisors have responded well to that!

I have also learned that it is okay to speak your mind in a relationship. I have stopped thinking that whatever I say or do will drive that person away. I have learned that if it does, then that person was not meant to be in your life in the first place.

My advice for girls starting college is this: be the one who is never missing a chance to grow. Gain experience. Go for it.