In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we asked inspiring Latinx professionals to share their stories in their own words. First up is Doris Poma, Senior Director of Human Resources at Montefiore Health System.
I am a single mom to two amazing, energetic and strong-willed future leaders- my 4 yr old and 8 yr old girl. My day job is as an HR Leader in healthcare with over 22 years of Human Resources experience. In my current role, as Senior Director, Human Resources for the Faculty Practice Group of Montefiore Medical Center, I oversee HR operations for the ambulatory side which includes 26 specialties such as Radiology, Oncology, Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, and Cardiology as well as our Call Center and Professional Services Group – a total of approximately 2,000 physicians and 3,000 associates. In addition to healthcare, my career both the public and private sector in CT and NYC.
So how did a first-generation Peruvian immigrant, whose first language was Spanish, get here? Well, like most immigrant stories, my parents came to the United States because they wanted better opportunities for their children. Although I was raised in a very traditional, old school Peruvian household in which gender roles were well defined (my mother cooked, cared for us and was responsible for maintaining the house while my father worked as the sole provider in a factory), I was raised with the notion that my education and career should always come first. Getting married, having children, was something that should be secondary to school and pursuing a career.
Thankfully, as a result of an amazing summer program for low income students, Horizons, I was offered a full scholarship to New Canaan Country School. This opportunity ultimately led to graduating from King School and moving on to NYU for undergrad and Boston University for graduate school.
What has resonated with me the most from a private school education is this – children are a product of their environment. They are most influenced and nurtured by the environment that surrounds them. My peers at NCCS and King all had one thing in common- college was the natural progression from high school. They would, without question, attend prestigious schools and academically succeed enough to get them into the boarding schools and colleges that their parents and grandparents were alumni of. For them, college was the expectation. With that expectation came the resources- the extracurricular activities, the study course for entrance exams, the private tutors and counselors and so on.
In comparison to my peers who attended public school and may have come from a working-class home, college was a choice, one of many options available and dependent on cost, grades and motivation. In many cases, these students had to work twice as hard to get into the schools they wanted- they had to actively seek out resources and guidance regarding the college application process because what was offered through their school was too little, too late. Their parents were working to ensure their basic needs were met and did not know enough or have access to these types of resources. They did not have the money to hire a private guidance counselor, take the preparatory exams for the PSAT’s and SATs or enroll their children to participate in the extra-curriculars after school that so many colleges looked for on an application.
Growing up, I lived in between these two worlds. My parents worked hard to provide for us, but the world of college admissions was completely foreign to them. I relied tremendously on what I learned from my guidance counselor and my peers. Instead of prep courses for SATs, I bought myself study guides at the local bookstore. I worked part-time at my neighborhood supermarket after school and on the weekends to gain skills I didn’t learn in the classroom. The times that I struggled in class, my teacher pulled me aside and offered extra help to get me up to speed with my peers. Throughout middle and high school, my public-school peers were identified into an academic track based on their grades and did not benefit from individualized attention. In many cases, they remained in that academic track throughout school, without the encouragement or motivation to aspire for more. While they may have applied to one or two schools, considered trade school or a full-time job after graduation, I was not only encouraged but groomed, by early sophomore year, to apply to safety, match and reach schools.
This encouragement, constant guidance and motivation that I received in private school truly made all the difference for a first-generation immigrant from a working middle class family. It fostered a need to excel and exceed even my expectations, no matter what obstacles I faced. This paved the way for my continued education and ultimately, my career that started while I worked part-time and attended NYU as a full-time student.
Realistically, our children, our future leaders cannot all afford the benefits of a private school education. So it’s up to us to encourage and motivate them. It’s up to us to be the role models, extend a hand, volunteer as mentors, as academic counselors in our communities and in the neighborhoods that need it most. Use your bilingual skills to connect with those families and show them what their children can achieve with encouragement. Give back and through your own experience, remember the person or support network who extended their hand to you and helped you see that even what may have seemed like the impossible is always possible. When someone tells you no, you are not capable of achieving your goals, let that be your motivation to prove them wrong. Let’s do our part to foster growth and nurture our future leaders in achieving their highest potential, regardless of the challenges they may face.