Edward Martinez, an associate dean for student affairs at Suffolk County Community College, talks about being selected for the SUNY program.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

Three Latino educators at Long Island colleges are embarking this week on a venture they hope will enhance their positions as role models and mentors in their communities.

On Wednesday, the 2023 class of SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute began six months of executive training sessions and webinars, conversations with national and regional Hispanic leaders, and opportunities for networking and mentorship.

Edward Martinez, an administrator at Suffolk County Community College; Leonardo Falcón, a Nassau Community College professor; and Bryan Garcia, an administrator at Farmingdale State College, all were nominated by their own campus administrations and were among nine chosen from among many professors and administrators on SUNY’s campuses across the state. They will continue working as they participate remotely and join for occasional retreats.

The three spoke about what motivates them and what they hope to gain from the program.

Edward Martinez, Suffolk County Community College

'My ‘why’ is to instill hope. That’s my ‘why’ in why I do this work.'

-Edward Martinez, Suffolk County Community College

Credit: Morgan Campbell

Martinez, 51, of Farmingville, is SCCC’s associate dean for student affairs and deputy Title IX coordinator. He grew up in the South Bronx and graduated from Dominican University in Rockland County.

“When I graduated college back in ’94, I got my first job in student affairs. I always knew I wanted to be an educator, and most people who go to college just think of teaching. My then-dean of students really saw something in me and mentored me. I was student government president and worked closely with the dean. He said, ‘Eddie, you’re really a good administrator. That’s your calling.’ It was then and it is now. I was able to become Dominican's first student activities director.

“There are some born leadership skills and some you have to hone. My doctorate is in leadership from Dowling College. My excitement is as a Puerto Rican born and raised in the Bronx, there are not a lot of people born in my area who get these opportunities.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Hispanic leaders from around the state, and how can we support each other in this kind of work regarding leadership; diversity, equity and inclusion; and then ultimately higher education.

“We know more than 50% of Latino students nationwide start their academic journeys at community colleges, and there aren’t many Hispanic administrators and faculty. Part of what I hope is for there to be encouragement for other Hispanics and Latinos in the field to work in community colleges.

“I absolutely strive to be a good example of how anything can be possible and a mentor to many students, an example of ‘hard work pays off, dedication is key and focus is paramount.’

“My ‘why’ is to instill hope. That’s my ‘why’ in why I do this work. To the first-generation student coming in, there is always hope in doing anything. My source of satisfaction is when that student reaches their success — whatever that student’s success is for them, to help them achieve that.”

Leonardo Falcón, Nassau Community College

'What I always tell my students is never give up. It might seem simple but it’s useful. Don’t stop for whatever reason.'

-Leonardo Falcón, Nassau Community College

Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Falcón, 54, of Elmhurst, grew up in Cuba. He is a professor of history and Latin American studies at NCC.

“My students are my priority — encouraging students, embracing their struggles. By improving my managerial skills I can help improve their future.

“What I always tell my students is ‘never give up.’ It might seem simple but it’s useful. ‘Don’t stop for whatever reason.’ I do recognize my own struggles with the language, finances, being an immigrant, being an older student, and I see my struggles also with society telling me ‘you can’t, you can’t’ and me saying, ‘Oh yes I can, watch me.’

“I grew up in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1994. I learned English as an adult. I have a Ph.D. and a master's degree from Florida International University in Miami. Previously I was a member of a religious order. People said, ‘Oh, you are too old to go back to school, you already have degrees,’ and I said, ‘No, I’ll make it.’ And I did.

"At the Institute I do want to increase my support network among the other educators. I’m new to the area and I’ll look for mentorship opportunities among the other participants. I’m looking for another Hispanic mentor within SUNY, unofficial mentorships.

“I’m hoping it inspires other minorities to never give up. It might sound like a cliché but it’s not: I really want to leave the world a better place, to get a better future for younger generations. They do have a bright future but they have to embrace the opportunities. I see myself as providing the support for them to embrace the opportunities.”

Bryan Garcia, Farmingdale State College

'At the end of the day we’re probably looking for similar things. … to learn in an atmosphere of trust and give that back.'

-Bryan Garcia, Farmingdale State College

Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Garcia, 38, of Seaford, grew up in Albertson. He is Farmingdale State College’s director of Support Programs.

“I’m always urging staff to identify a mentor, whether it’s me or someone else to help them advance. My main purpose [through the Institute] is to build my own network even more and cultivate mentorship relationships. I’ve been preaching that to students and colleagues for years, and I want to take my own medicine.

“What I wrote in my application was I was also looking for a sense of belonging where I could be my fully authentic self while I develop new skills and make mistakes along the way.

"At the end of the day we’re probably looking for similar things. … to learn in an atmosphere of trust and give that back."

“In terms of diversity, 51% of the students in Farmingdale are coming from minority populations and 26% identify as Hispanic collegewide. In my specific role as director of support programs I oversee two grant-funded initiatives specifically targeting students of either low income, first generation and/or students with disabilities.

“The TRIO program provides extra support to students in any of those groups. And I assist in CSTEP, the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program, a NYS-funded initiative for students pursuing STEM careers who have to come from a historically underrepresented group and/or be economically disadvantaged. In TRIO, 40% of the students identify as Hispanic, and 60% in CSTEP.

“To me it is like a full circle — I’m able to participate in the program with eight other people who have probably gone through the same journey and then offer those same insights to my students.

“At the end of the day, we’re probably looking for similar things. … to learn in an atmosphere of trust and give that back. Trust and authenticity. Even just the chance to connect with those two other educators on LI. I don’t know those two individuals, and just the opportunity to connect with them and have the chance to thought-partner with them in the future is just a very rewarding idea.”