“Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation” is the 2022 National Hispanic Heritage month theme. The National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM) explains that the theme reinforces the need for diverse voices and perspectives in decision-making to build stronger communities and overall, a stronger nation. 

From the 2020 Census we’ve learned that 50% of Utah’s population growth between 2010 and 2020 was driven by minority populations. As we celebrate National Hispanic month (September 15th - October 15th), Techbuzz wishes to recognize the largest minority group in Utah. Hispanic or Latinos make up 15% of the Utah population (nearly half a million). 

Ella Rises, which translates to ‘She Rises,’ is a newer nonprofit organization based in Provo and embodies the National Hispanic month theme. Founded by Nadia Cates in 2020, the organization was created to empower young Latina women in Utah. 

“I observed that there was a rise in the Latino population in Utah and I recognized that there was a need for support for the youth,” says Cates. “We focused on the girls because one concern we see is that there are higher rates of teenage pregnancies among the Latina youth in the community and there is a higher probability of some of them dropping out of school early on because of the circumstances they find themselves in. There was not a program designed for just girls. We saw the need and couldn't afford to wait to begin.” 

Pictured above is the rest of the Ella Rises team. From left to right is Gisele Loisotto, Administrative Assistant, Alicia Olsen, Programs and Marketing Manager, and Claudia Barillas, Managing Director. 

Ella Rises offers three different types of classes in art, STEM, and mariachi band, all with a goal to inspire, uplift, empower, and encourage the girls as they move forward in their journey. Once a year, the organization holds a three day summit with a sampling of all three subjects. Girls ages 11-18 gather to hear keynote speakers, learn different crafts, and feel inspired. Many of the girls are first or second generation immigrants. 

“It's about bringing the community together in a safe space where our girls can feel like they're not alone in this journey, where they can feel like they are a priority,” says Cates. 

This year’s Summit featured key speakers including entrepreneur and business owner, Cony Larson, Founder of Mikoleon LLC, Taby Davila from Shop Taby, Kristin Andrus, and Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut. 

Larson shared her story with the girls of growing up in Guatemala and her experience with moving to the US to get married. She reminded the girls to not forget their heritage and to make it a priority to teach their children to be proud of their heritage and of their contributions to this country. 

“Your heritage is powerful.” Larson told the girls. “Don’t dismiss it to fit in. There’s power in diversity and representation.” 

Ochoa shared her experience of being the only Latina she knew in a heavily male-dominated field. At first, Ochoa was rejected from the NASA training program three times, but after getting her pilot’s license she reapplied and finally got in. In 1993 she became the first Hispanic woman to go to space and funnily enough, the first person to play a flute in space as well. Overall, Ochoa did four missions in space, studying the ozone layer and helping assemble the international space station.

Ochoa told the girls that, besides microgravity and beautiful views of earth from space, her favorite thing about being an astronaut was working with a team to benefit the people on earth. She encouraged the girls to learn how to work in teams, “As an astronaut and as a member of the crew, the rest of the crew is counting on you to learn the specific roles that you are going to play. Thinking about the big picture, you are all working toward making the mission successful. I think you can develop those skills in a lot of different ways, from sports teams, music (like I did), a dance team, or any other team activity.” 

To end, Ochoa pushed the girls to learn more about STEM and explore their opportunities. “I like to say STEM subjects are about curiosity, creativity, learning new information, solving challenges, and working as a team,” says Ochoa. “I think those are all things girls enjoy, and oftentimes, that’s not the impression you get in school about what science and engineering is. I encourage you to take advantage, not only of this program, but of whatever you can study in school and realize a lot of times, this is how we help our communities and how we solve challenges, by applying things that we learn in science and engineering.” 

The Ella Rises STEM initiative was started after Cates saw the low statistics of Latina women in STEM jobs; only 2% of computer related jobs are held by Hispanic women. On top of that, women software engineer hires have only increased 2% over the last 21 years and women of color only make up 18% of entry-level positions, as opposed to 30% of white women and 35% of white men.

Ella Rises partnered with the UVU Creative Learning Studio to offer STEM experiences for the girls to introduce them to STEM in a fun and safe environment. In one STEM experience, the girls made a map of where they are and ended it where they wanted to be. They then coded bots to go from the start to the finish. They also learned how to fly drones and how to create stop motion videos. 

“It's neat for us to see how these experiences are impacting the girls,” says Cates. “They come and, lo and behold, it's more exciting than they imagined. We do hope that as the girls engage more in the Ella Rises STEM opportunities we offer, it will increase their curiosity in pursuing a STEM career in the future.

Art classes are a large part of Ella Rises. Last year, the girls partnered with Latina artists, Evelyn Haupt and Zully Davila to design and create a mural in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA). 

In an interview with UMFA, artist Evelyn Haupt says, “This mural was an opportunity to listen to the true feelings of these girls regarding the pandemic. Their experiences were tragic yet upbeat, heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It also gave us a rare and emotional peek into the hearts of a new generation of Latin-American youth––a glimpse into what they hope for in this world. These expressions are written in this mural, solidified as the foundation for this piece.” 

In the mural, the sun surrounding the two women has the hopes and dreams of the girls in Ella Rises written into it. “Without the girls, the mural would not exist,” says Cates. 

The mariachi band classes are a new addition to Ella Rises, and the beginning of the future for the organization. One day the organization hopes to put on full productions, using the art created by the girls as a backdrop to the mariachi band concerts, and girls interested in STEM running the lights and the stage production, combining all aspects of Ella Rises into one. 

“Ella Rises is still growing, I call it my baby,” says Cates. “I feel like she's young and we're still nursing her and nourishing her, but in just three years, we've made great headway. It's exciting to imagine where we're headed in the future.” 

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