Celebrating culture and contributions: Profiles in excellence for Hispanic Heritage Month
September 19, 2023 (Evans City, PA) – “Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15 by celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America,” according to hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
Join us this month in celebrating the vibrant tapestry of our team as we shine a spotlight on the incredible individuals whose Hispanic heritage enriches our workplace and our communities. Get to know Claudia Rico and Alek Argueta, both of whom make significant contributions to Connected Nation’s mission and overall success.
Can you tell us about your heritage and where you grew up?
Claudia: I was born in Bogota, Colombia. Colombian culture is a blend of various influences, with strong traces of Indigenous American and Iberian Peninsula traditions. This diversity is evident in our country's array of foods, music, dances, and more, reflecting the warmth and passion of the Colombian people. In Colombia, each region has its unique charm, from the coffee plantations to the beauty of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts and the Andes Mountains.
I grew up in Bogota with both my parents and three siblings. I’m the second oldest after my sister, with two younger brothers. All of us have engineering degrees now. We grew up in a calm and peaceful neighborhood with a close-knit community. Like many Hispanic families, we bonded through music and shared meals. My family is my pillar of support and motivation. We function like a private consulting firm, always ready to come together and find solutions whenever we need help, whether personally or professionally.
Alek: I am half El Salvadorian and half Mexican. I grew up mostly going to Mexico City to visit my mom’s side of the family, and so I feel and embrace more of my Mexican culture. My dad did not want to take us when we were younger because there was a lot of gang violence going on in El Salvador. I love the dancing and the liveliness that Hispanics bring to almost every gathering, and just the upbeat music that both Latin and Hispanic cultures have. I love to dance and be part of a community where I can feel loved and appreciated.
I grew up speaking Spanish at home as my first language, and even though my parents did learn and spoke English, my mom wanted to make sure we learned to speak Spanish, which I am very grateful for. My dad was born in El Salvador, and he immigrated to the USA at the age of 20 for a better chance and opportunity, and to escape all the gang violence happening back in his country. My mom was born in Acapulco, Guerrero, and then my grandparents went back to Mexico City, so my mother was mainly raised in Mexico City until the age of 17, when she moved to Houston, Texas.
What do you do for Connected Nation, and what brought you here?
Claudia: I am the Director of the Project Management Office at Connected Nation, where I have the privilege of leading a fantastic team of professionals. Together, we oversee numerous programs and projects throughout the United States, all focused on improving broadband access. Our work ranges from gathering infrastructure data and creating availability maps to teaching digital skills in rural communities across America.
My passion for our mission has led me to continue overseeing two programs apart from leading my team. I continue working as the Project Manager of the Texas program, as I am a state resident and dedicated to enhancing opportunities within it. The Puerto Rico program holds a special place in my heart due to my cultural heritage. I feel a strong connection to my community and am driven to make a positive impact.
Prior to my role here, I spent over a decade working in the oil and gas industry. During a downturn in the industry, I seized the opportunity to work with students in Title I schools in Nevada. These students were primarily African American and Hispanic, and I witnessed firsthand the disparities they faced, including limited access to regular meals, clothing, and basic services like electricity and, of course, broadband.
That experience was transformative for me. It fueled my determination to dedicate my time to working for the betterment of others and to make a positive impact on the world we live in. Eventually, I found my way to Connected Nation, where I continue to pursue that mission.
Alek: I am Digital Literacy & Learning Workshop Facilitator, and I give presentations as a part of the Digital Equity Act to get everyone comfortable enough to use and browse the internet safely from multiple devices. I first heard about Connected Nation (CN) when I was working with the Rio Grande Council of Governments as part of my AmeriCorps volunteer site, where I connected the local libraries in the area with CN’s digital literacy program to have some classes be put on in West Texas. They then reached out to me to see if I could help give some of the presentations in Spanish, since they knew I am bilingual. I then started with Connected Nation as a contractor to give the presentations in Spanish, as well as in English when they needed me.
What do you love most about your job?
Claudia: At CN, not only are we driven by a mission and a desire to provide equal opportunities to all, but I also have the privilege of working in my favorite professional areas. With an engineering background and a master’s degree in project and program management, I have the opportunity to lead engineering projects, collaborate with geospatial professionals, delve into government affairs and compliance, support communities with telehealth initiatives, and witness the growth and improvement of communities thanks to our technology education initiatives at CN.
Alek: What I love most about my job is that I get to work with all different types of people from all different backgrounds. I get to meet people from varying backgrounds and hear about their lives while getting to teach them a new skill for them to use their internet devices more effectively. I also love getting to travel to new places and seeing all the different types of libraries and towns as well.
Tell us a little bit about your hobbies. What you like to do outside of work?
Claudia: Because I spend numerous hours in front of a computer, in my free time, I love to be outdoors. I enjoy hiking and have recently taken up kayaking. I also have a passion for photography, music, and dance. Currently, I am taking flamenco classes, something I’ve always wanted to try, and I’m preparing to start clay modeling classes. I’m an enthusiastic traveler, although there’s still a lot of empty space on my map. I’ve explored only 21 countries so far, but I’m actively working on adding more to my list!
Alek: In my free time, I like to travel when I get the chance. I also love anything outdoors, so just sitting in the park on a blanket soaking up the sun, riding my bike or longboard, swimming in natural waters, hiking, and camping. I also love doing yoga and exercising to keep my mind sane. I try not to do this often, but I do like shopping as well.
As Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off, Connected Nation celebrates the individuals who remind us that diversity is our strength. They inspire us every day and make both our workplaces and communities stronger.