Their Story – Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr.
This is the ninth installment in a series of articles featuring the Board of Directors of College Success Arizona, this installment features Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr., President and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commercde.
College Success Arizona is a 501(c)3 educational foundation founded in 2005, to increase the number of bachelor’s degree holders in the state of Arizona by providing scholarships and College Success Services to high potential, low-income students. The vision of College Success Arizona is to create an educated workforce ready to take Arizona into the future.
These articles are designed to give a more personal insight into each of our Board Members, to give them the opportunity to share why they care so deeply about Arizona, college attainment, and the mission of College Success Arizona.
1. Please tell us a little about your background
“I’m the son of an immigrant and first in my family to graduate from college. Actually, my mother and I were tied in achieving that milestone; we both graduated college the same year. I guess you could say I was on the seven year undergraduate college plan, had an opportunity for five different internships and 3 study abroad trips. I was able to travel to Cuernavaca and Monterey in Mexico. The experience taught me a lot about the world and a lot about people’s different approaches to business. It’s all come in handy, especially now when I find myself interacting with a wide range of major corporations, some of them global in nature, as well as the AZHCC’s small business membership.”
2. What does your organization do?
“The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is an economic development organization that helps Latino-owned small businesses gain access to contracts, capital and job creation. We’re also involved in developing and providing market intelligence, hard data, on the Hispanic consumer and business market for the wider community. We have lots of capacity building and professional development training for small business owners. We’re involved in the public policy advocacy arm and we have an increasingly successful foundation that’s serving our community’s education needs. In short, we’re the voice at the table, locally, statewide, nationwide and even internationally delivering the message that Arizona’s Hispanic community is an economic force to be reckoned with. All of that said, we’re keenly committed to a philosophy that drives home the idea that we’re all in this together. Arizona cannot prosper without engaging Latinos and Latinos cannot prosper without being engaged in the mainstream market.”
3. How did you come to be associated with College Success Arizona?
“We’re a customer. It’s been about a year since we joined. Some of College Success Arizona’s scholars are funded by us. More importantly, we have the same fundamental goals. We want first-generation college students to succeed because Arizona needs them to build our state’s future. Our organization has being doing a good job of tapping into the high school community and aspiring college students by offering grants and other guidance. We also offer internships to them at our offices and with corporate partners. None of that will matter, however, if they don’t make it through college. That’s where CSA comes in. We get that. We know you’re organization provides not just a service, but it may be the determining factor in whether our young people succeed. ”
4. What is your vision for the Arizona of the future?
“I think the Arizona of the future is definitely going to be more diverse, hopefully more inclusive, and if leveraged appropriately, our assets will ensure that we’re competitive in the global marketplace. Realistically, all of that can only be achieved if all of our communities work cooperatively and inclusively to develop our state’s big picture policy agenda. Arizona Latinos will be a majority of the state’s population in one generation, but we’re already part of the mainstream of our society, economically, politically, and in terms of every major social element. If Arizona Latinos succeed, Arizona succeeds. That’s the effort we want to be part of.”
5. Why do you feel increasing Arizona’s College Attainment Rates is so important?
“Well, going back to my previous statement, if Arizona is going to be competitive in the global marketplace, it’s going to be because of its competitive edge; which is primarily its people. The future pipeline of workforce development is contingent on having an educated workforce in Arizona. Without education we’re settling for mediocrity, which is call centers and strip malls, and we become a tier three, tier four market in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
6. What other projects, activities, groups, are you involved in?
“I’m involved with the United Way, Fiesta Bowl, ASU Downtown advisory board and I own and operate food and beverage concessions at Sky Harbor Airport.”
7. What is your organization involved in?
“We are involved in training high school entrepreneurs through a national program that we executed in Arizona called the Young Entrepreneur Academy, known by its acronym as YEA!. We also have what we call our Emerging Business Leader’s Initiative that provides access to scholarships, support services, internships and academies for emerging Latino business students. At our core, however, we’re all about making sure anything we’re involved in advances the Latino business and consumer community, while help forge the way for other women- and minority-owned business enterprises, and staying engaged in the state’s top economically related public policy and private industry priorities. ”
8. If you had a message for a student just beginning their college career, what would that be?
“Don’t be in a hurry. Take advantage of the extra-curricular opportunities, and enjoy the journey.”
Elizabeth Parra Valenzuela is working as a Communication and Engagement Intern, while attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.