Distinguished Alumni Award Nominations Now Open
This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award nominations, for Celebracion 2016 (this coming November, in McAllen), are now open. The nominating process is simple — this Google Doc allows you to write in a candidate for the committee’s consideration. Anyone who has attended an NHI program is eligible; the write-ups below cover the three Distinguished Alumni winners from Celebracion 2015.
(To nominate for other awards, including the Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement Award, use this Google Doc.)
Brianna Hinojosa-Flores, 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Winner
Current title: Coppell City Council member and Senior Manager – Patent Attorney with Blackberry
Has been involved with NHI since: 1998 (Texas LDZ)
Past and present involvement with NHI: As she notes, “I have always attributed my foundation for public service to both the National Hispanic Institute (NHI) and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). I attended LDZ in 1988; in 1990, prior to graduation from McAllen Memorial High School and entering Trinity University, I was elected as the National Youth President for LULAC. After graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law and moving to the Dallas area, I joined the Hispanic Bar Association and served as a mentor for Latino law students. I am always sharing my story with students and encouraging them to attend NHI programs.”
How is she currently serving and leading her community? She said, “In May 2005, I was elected as the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Coppell City Council. In May 2012, after being re-elected to my third 3-year term, I stepped down to run for Congress in an effort to discuss issues beyond the local level, such as education, health & wellness, and job creation. While I lost the race, I won 33% of the votes in an area I do not reside in and had the opportunity to connect with many citizens within the district to listen to their concerns.”
Thoughts about the award: “I have always attributed my foundation for public service to both the National Hispanic Institute (NHI) and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). I attended LDZ in 1988; in 1990, prior to graduation from McAllen Memorial High School and entering Trinity University, I was elected as the National Youth President for LULAC. After graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law and moving to the Dallas area, I joined the Hispanic Bar Association and served as a mentor for Latino law students. I am always sharing my story with students and encouraging them to attend NHI programs.”
Carlos Paz, 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Winner
Current title: Principal & Co-Founder, Bridge Strategies
Has been involved with NHI since: 2001 Texas Great Debate
Past and present involvement with NHI: In addition to participating in Great Debate and LDZ programs while in high school, he has served as the Regional Leadership Director in Houston for eight years.
How is he currently serving and leading his community? Carlos is the Principal and Founder of Bridge Strategies, an external relations firm that works at the cross section of public and private interests to bridge relationships and create measurable results. They share in a dynamic vision for a multicultural, inclusive and globally connected society and partner with clients on government relations, strategic philanthropy, community outreach, public affairs, political communications, and issue advocacy.
He currently chairs the advisory board of The LiveSmart Initiative, and is the Founder & Co-Curator of TEDxYouthHouston. He is also part of a group of emerging statewide leaders who created the Latino Texas Political Action Committee. As he explained, “The Latino Texas PAC is a collective effort to build an enduring vehicle of political empowerment for our community by helping support and elect qualified Latinas & Latinos who are running for public office providing the financial backing and infrastructure to encourage those individuals considering running for political office. Our aim is simple: Increase the representation of the Latino community in elected positions and the accountability of all elected to the Latino community at large, regardless of political party affiliation.”
Thoughts about the award: He said, “Every single great step in my life: college, service to community, jobs, traveling the world, is rooted in and affected by my NHI leadership experiences. I love NHI because it’s family, it’s OUR organization, it’s where I find courage and meaning, it’s where I practice leadership, it’s where I learned to be inspired and learned to inspire, it’s been a vehicle to create community and get young people to dream big! At NHI, I receive as much as I give. I’m happy to share this award with my family, friends and the young people who have touched my life over the years.”
Omar Yanar, 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Winner
Current title: Co-Founder/CEO, El Paso Leadership Academy
Has been involved with NHI since: 1994 (Texas Great Debate)
Past and present involvement with NHI: He won the Top Attorney Award at the 1994 Texas Great Debate with the El Paso team, and was a junior counselor in 1995, a senior counselor in 1996, and a senior mentor in 1997 with El Paso’s YLC program. He has also worked at NHI headquarters, has worked as director of the Mexican Language Program in Monterrey, and has most recently partnered with NHI to support El Paso’s YLC students.
How is he currently serving and leading his community? He said, “I feel that the spirit of NHI is alive and resplendent in my current endeavor. I founded and am CEO of the El Paso Leadership Academy, a tuition free public charter school serving mostly low-income Latino students. Our mission is to prepare our students for success within and through a four-year university and to become engaged leaders in the community. The word leadership in our name is intentional. That came from my experience in NHI and sparked the idea for the school when I was only 15 years old. I returned from the YLC program and asked my mom, a now 43 year educator in El Paso, why our public schools weren’t teaching the vital skills of public communication, critical problem solving, collaboration, analytical thought and learning and getting up from failure. She simply answered: ‘What will do you do about it?’
Fifteen years later, I began conceptualizing and writing the charter application for a place where students are not only getting a rigorous college preparatory academic experience but learning the crucial leadership and real life skills that are necessary for navigating a highly complicated and emerging global reality. EPLA is a civil rights endeavor. We are providing choice and equal opportunity for an exceptional education that is often the exclusive luxury of middle and high-income families. In short, we working diligently to make the reality of the NHI programs, prevalent in our everyday circular experience at the El Paso Leadership Academy and defy the horrifying statistics of post secondary success for our low-income Latino population and eradicate the cycle of poverty for our families.”
Thoughts about the award: “I’m a little shocked to be honest. Considering the collective awesomeness of NHI alumni and the myriad others who probably deserve this award tenfold to myself, I’m simply humbled and a little embarrassed. My hope in receiving this award that I could share a small piece of advice that I received from my father’s best friend when I was 26, completely lost and about to make a terrible mistake of becoming an attorney. After asking me why, to which I was unable to respond with an articulate answer, he told me, ‘Omar, never do anything for the money. Find what you love and pursue it with an unrelenting passion and I promise you, everything else will work out.’ We often get pressured by our peers, parents and community to become something that THEY believe we should be, instead of having the courage of becoming the person you were meant to become. Please dig deep, find what you love and what you’re passionate about and work on accomplishing it tirelessly. While that is most important, I hope that this work allows you to make a meaningful contribution to the Latino community and ensure the success of those that weren’t as lucky as you. Thank you.”