Maribel Cortes, IT Technical Project Manager at GE Aviation, understands what it’s like to be a Hispanic female in a male-dominated industry. She also understands that in order to get more Hispanics involved in STEM careers, the community has to take an intentional approach.
Cortes is also a member of the GE Aviation Hispanic Forum and the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Last year, she was named president for the Cincinnati chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE Cincinnati). We spoke to her about what the business community in Cincinnati is doing to serve as active and visible advocates in the Hispanic business arena.
Tell us about the Cincinnati Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Cortes: The Chamber wants to inspire Hispanic students in elementary, middle and high school to graduate from high school, which can be a challenge. Then we want to inspire them enough to go on to college and enter the pipeline for STEM careers. It is our mission to develop a national network of Hispanic business associations and firms and to expand business opportunities with both public and private sectors.
How does the business community help with this?
Cortes: The Chamber has a monthly meeting in which representatives from big corporations, like GE Aviation or Kroger, join us to talk about inclusion, diversity or what is going on in that specific month in their respective companies. There was a meeting two months ago where the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic chamber, and the regional chamber worked together on an event. We asked the young people, “What can we do to keep you guys here in the region?”
Procter & Gamble has participated in the Hispanic Scholarship Fund since 1986 by funding hundreds of scholarships. They also include a program in which students are brought in to the company to show them where they could be working one day.
Last year when the pandemic hit and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) closed, there were kids in low-income areas who didn’t have a laptop to complete their work at home. A teacher told me that the schools were having to print materials every week for these students. A lot of the students stopped “attending” classes. I went to the Hispanic forum at GE Aviation and explained the situation. They provided 125 laptops. GE Aviation has been doing a lot that’s just not publicized.
Everyone is making an individual effort, but the purpose of the Hispanic Chapter monthly meeting is for these companies to share the efforts they’re making.
You want to encourage the students to not just stay in school but also stay in the city.
Cortes: Exactly. I’ve been in discussions with the English as a Second Language (ESL) manager for Hamilton County. We think that one of the ways to keep these young people here is through connections and networking. The ESL program for CPS is not just for Hispanics; they have kids from probably 20 countries. While many students go on to join the military, we’d also like to see them continue with college. Ultimately, we’re trying to break that circle of poverty and keep them out of gangs and other bad situations.
I’m trying to connect the dots because if we don’t do that and work together, not only as organizations, but as a community, then this is not going to work.