Meet Afro-Latina Scientist Dr. Jessica Esquivel

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Dr. Jessica Esquivel

By Erica Nahmad, Be Latina

It’s undeniable that representation matters and the idea of what a scientist could or should look like is changing, largely thanks to pioneers like Afro-Latina scientist Dr. Jessica Esquivel, who is breaking barriers for women in STEM one step at a time.

Dr. Esquivel isn’t just extraordinary because of what she is capable of as an Afro-Latina astrophysicist — she’s also extraordinary in her vulnerability and relatability. She’s on a mission to break barriers in science and to show the humanity behind scientists.

Dr. Esquivel makes science accessible to everyone, no matter what you look like or where you come from. As one of the only Afro-Latina scientists in her field, and one of the only women who looked like her to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, Dr. Esquivel knows a thing or two about the importance of representation, especially in STEM fields and science labs.

Women make up only 28% of the science, technology, engineering, and math workforce in the U.S. Those disparities are even more severe when you start to look at minority populations.

“When you start looking at the intersections of race and gender and then even sexuality, those numbers drop significantly,” Esquivel told CBS Chicago. “There are only about 100 to 150 black women with their Ph.D. in physics in the country!”

Fighting against the isolation of uniqueness
Dr. Jessica Esquivel recalls being a nontraditional student and being “the only” when she entered graduate school for physics — the only woman in her class, the only Black, the only Mexican, the only lesbian — and all of that made her feel very isolated.

“On top of such rigorous material, the isolation and otherness that happens due to being the only or one of few is an added burden marginalized people, especially those with multiple marginalized identities, have to deal with,” Dr. Esquivel told BeLatina in an email interview. On top of feeling like an outsider, isolation was also consuming. “Being away from family at a predominately white institution, where the number of microaggressions was constant, really affected my mental health and, in turn, my coursework and research, so it was important to surround myself with mentors who supported me and believed in my ability to be a scientist.”

While she anticipated that the physics curriculum would be incredibly challenging, she was definitely not prepared for how hard the rest of the experience would be and how it would impact her as a student and a scientist.

The challenges she faced professionally and personally made her realize early on just how crucial representation is in academia and all fields, but especially in STEM. “It was really impactful for me to learn that there were other Black women who had made it out of the grad school metaphorical trenches. It’s absolutely important to create inclusive spaces where marginalized people, including Black, Latina, and genderqueer people, can thrive,” she said.

“The secrets of our universe don’t discriminate, these secrets can and should be unraveled by all those who wish to embark on that journey, and my aim is to clear as many barriers and leave these physics spaces better than I entered them.”

When inclusion and equal opportunities are the ultimate goal
Dr. Jessica Esquivel isn’t just dedicating her time and energy to studying complex scientific concepts — think quantum entanglement, space-time fabric, the building blocks of the universe… some seriously abstract physics concepts straight out of a sci-fi movie, as she explains. On top of her research, she put in so much extra work to show people, especially younger generations of women of color, that the physics and STEM world is not some old white man’s club where this prestigious knowledge is only available to them. Dr. Esquivel is an expert in her field; she knows things that no one else currently knows and has the ability and the power to transfer that knowledge to others and pass it down to others. There is a place for everyone, including people who look like her, in the STEM world, and she’s on a mission to inspire others while working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the STEM space.

“Many of us who are underrepresented in STEM have taken on the responsibility of spearheading institutional change toward more just, equitable, and inclusive working environments as a form of survival,” she explains. “I’m putting in more work on top of the research I do because I recognize that I do better research if I feel supported and if I feel like I can bring my whole self to my job. My hope is that one day Black and brown women and gender-queer folks interested in science can pursue just that and not have to fight for their right to be a scientist or defend that they are worthy of doing science.”

Click here to read the full article on Be Latina.

Diagnosing Mental Health Disorders Through AI Facial Expression Evaluation
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Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

By , Unite

Researchers from Germany have developed a method for identifying mental disorders based on facial expressions interpreted by computer vision.

The new approach can not only distinguish between unaffected and affected subjects, but can also correctly distinguish depression from schizophrenia, as well as the degree to which the patient is currently affected by the disease.

The researchers have provided a composite image that represents the control group for their tests (on the left in the image below) and the patients who are suffering from mental disorders (right). The identities of multiple people are blended in the representations, and neither image depicts a particular individual:

Individuals with affective disorders tend to have raised eyebrows, leaden gazes, swollen faces and hang-dog mouth expressions. To protect patient privacy, these composite images are the only ones made available in support of the new work.

Until now, facial affect recognition has been primarily used as a potential tool for basic diagnosis. The new approach, instead, offers a possible method to evaluate patient progress throughout treatment, or else (potentially, though the paper does not suggest it) in their own domestic environment for outpatient monitoring.

The paper states*:

‘Going beyond machine diagnosis of depression in affective computing, which has been developed in previous studies, we show that the measurable affective state estimated by means of computer vision contains far more information than the pure categorical classification.’

The researchers have dubbed this technique Opto Electronic Encephalography (OEG), a completely passive method of inferring mental state by facial image analysis instead of topical sensors or ray-based medical imaging technologies.

The authors conclude that OEG could potentially be not just a mere secondary aide to diagnosis and treatment, but, in the long term, a potential replacement for certain evaluative parts of the treatment pipeline, and one that could cut down on the time necessary for patient monitoring and initial diagnosis. They note:

‘Overall, the results predicted by the machine show better correlations compared to the pure clinical observer rating based questionnaires and are also objective. The relatively short measurement period of a few minutes for the computer vision approaches is also noteworthy, whereas hours are sometimes required for the clinical interviews.’

However, the authors are keen to emphasize that patient care in this field is a multi-modal pursuit, with many other indicators of patient state to be considered than just their facial expressions, and that it is too early to consider that such a system could entirely substitute traditional approaches to mental disorders. Nonetheless, they consider OEG a promising adjunct technology, particularly as a method to grade the effects of pharmaceutical treatment in a patient’s prescribed regime.

The paper is titled The Face of Affective Disorders, and comes from eight researchers across a broad range of institutions from the private and public medical research sector.

Data

(The new paper deals mostly with the various theories and methods that are currently popular in patient diagnosis of mental disorders, with less attention than is usual to the actual technologies and processes used in the tests and various experiments)

Data-gathering took place at University Hospital at Aachen, with 100 gender-balanced patients and a control group of 50 non-affected people. The patients included 35 sufferers from schizophrenia and 65 people suffering from depression.

For the patient portion of the test group, initial measurements were taken at the time of first hospitalization, and the second prior to their discharge from hospital, spanning an average interval of 12 weeks. The control group participants were recruited arbitrarily from the local population, with their own induction and ‘discharge’ mirroring that of the actual patients.

In effect, the most important ‘ground truth’ for such an experiment must be diagnoses obtained by approved and standard methods, and this was the case for the OEG trials.

However, the data-gathering stage obtained additional data more suited for machine interpretation: interviews averaging 90 minutes were captured over three phases with a Logitech c270 consumer webcam running at 25fps.

The first session comprised of a standard Hamilton interview (based on research originated around 1960), such as would normally be given on admission. In the second phase, unusually, the patients (and their counterparts in the control group) were shown videos of a series of facial expressions, and asked to mimic each of these, while stating their own estimation of their mental condition at that time, including emotional state and intensity. This phase lasted around ten minutes.

In the third and final phase, the participants were shown 96 videos of actors, lasting just over ten seconds each, apparently recounting intense emotional experiences. The participants were then asked to evaluate the emotion and intensity represented in the videos, as well as their own corresponding feelings. This phase lasted around 15 minutes.

Click here to read the full article on Unite.

Your favourite Instagram face might not be a human. How AI is taking over influencer roles
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South Korean influencer Rozy has over 130,000 followers on Instagram.

By Mint

South Korean influencer Rozy has over 130,000 followers on Instagram. She posts photos of globetrotting adventures, she sings, dances and models. The interesting fact is, unlike most popular faces on the medium, Rozy is not a real human. However, this digitally rendered being looks so real that it’s often mistaken for flesh and blood.

How Rozy was designed?
Seoul-based company that created Rozy describes her as a blended personality – part human, part AI, and part robot. She is “able to do everything that humans cannot … in the most human-like form,” Sidus Studio X says on its website.

Sidus Studio X explains sometimes they create an image of Rozy from head to toe while other times it is just a superimposed photo where they put her head onto the body of a human model.

Rozy was launched in 2020 and since then, she pegged several brand deals and sponsorships, and participated in several virtual fashion shows and also released two singles.

And a CNN report claims, that Rozy is not alone, there are several others like her. Facebook and Instagram together have more than 200 virtual influencers on their platforms

The CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology behind Rozy isn’t new. It is ubiquitous in today’s entertainment industry, where artists use it to craft realistic nonhuman characters in movies, computer games and music videos. But it has only recently been used to make influencers, the report reads.

South Korean retail brand Lotte Home Shopping created its virtual influencer — Lucy, who now has 78,000 Instagram followers.

Lee Bo-hyun, Lotte representative, said that Lucy’s image is more than a pretty face. She studied industrial design, and works in car design. She posts about her job and interests, such as her love for animals and kimbap — rice rolls wrapped in seaweed.

There is a risk attached
However, there is always a risk attached to it. Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta has acknowledged the risks.

In a blog post, it said, “Like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and expressive liberty are already a growing concern,” the company said in a blog post.

“To help brands navigate the ethical quandaries of this emerging medium and avoid potential hazards, (Meta) is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of (virtual influencers).”

However, even though the elder generation is quite skeptical, the younger lot is comfortable communicating with virtual influencers.

Lee Na-kyoung, a 23-year-old living in Incheon, began following Rozy about two years ago thinking she was a real person. Rozy followed her back, sometimes commenting on her posts, and a virtual friendship blossomed — one that has endured even after Lee found out the truth, CNN report said.

“We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her — so I don’t think of her as an AI but a real friend,” Lee said.

Click here to read the full article on Mint.

Lack of women in hi-tech is a ‘vicious issue’ that must be solved – Female execs.
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diverse students looking at computer screen in a college classroom environment with female execs

By Zachy Hennessey, The Jerusalem Post

“Let’s start by establishing that hi-tech is really the best place for women,” began Dorit Dor, Chief Product Officer for Check Point, during a panel at Tuesday night’s first inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit from The Jerusalem Post and WE (Women’s Entrepreneurship). During the event, executives from throughout the hi-tech industry gathered to share their knowledge and experience with female entrepreneurs across the country.

Dor elaborated on the juxtaposition between the many good opportunities for women in hi-tech and the relative lack of their presence in the sector. “As well as learning technology, it’s the best opportunity for getting paid,” she said. “It’s the best opportunity for life balance because you could work from home in all the hi-tech industry, it’s the best for every reason you could think of to work in high tech – and still very few select this.”

“We have an issue,” she continued, and explained why she believes the current branding of hi-tech is repulsive for diverse groups of workers. “For example, in cyber, you wear a hoodie and drink a lot of coke, or the men doing it in high school are not socially acceptable,” she said. These impressions make women fearful that they wouldn’t be socially accepted if they were in the industry, Dor suggested.

Besides problematic branding, the hi-tech industry offers several other hurdles for women, explained Dor, including the requirement to “opt in” in order to achieve success and the need to loudly self-advocate for themselves. “Usually, women don’t do this very well,” she said.

In an effort to correct these issues, Check Point runs initiatives helping young kids choose hi-tech and mentoring women to speak up for themselves and pursue promotion. “In the end, if you had a whole list of [mid-level employees] that are women, maybe that would help as well,” she said.

“Cyber security is obviously one of the biggest trends in the Israeli eco-system, as attackers become more sophisticated, so will our solutions be more effective and comprehensive,” said Badian.

“Half of all engineers in Microsoft Israel R&D are focused on cyber security products and bring innovation to that field, so we can be prepared for the threats of the future,” she added.

“Another big trend we see on the rise is climate tech, I’m confident we will see the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit tackle this important issue and we hope to see more and more technological solutions for what might be one of the biggest challenges facing us all,” she concluded.

Investment in women isn’t doing well
Yifat Oron is the senior managing director at Blackstone, a hi-tech investment firm with $941 billion in assets under management. She elaborated on the current shortage of investment in female entrepreneurs, which isn’t doing gangbusters, to say the least.

“$330b. invested in tech by VCs last year – what’s the percentage invested in women entrepreneurs? Two percent,” Oron remarked. “A little less bad is the amount of money invested in companies that have women in the founding team: 16%. It’s still very bad.”

By means of explanation, Oron indicated that the lack of investment in women stems from a lack of female investors.

“The statistics are not glamorous at all. It’s [something like] 15% of general partners [GPs] are women,” she said, while acknowledging that even as little as 10 years ago, these numbers wouldn’t be as “high” – in this sense, some progress has been made. Regardless, she pointed out, “If we’re not going to have GPs that are women, we’re not going to have entrepreneurs that are women.”

To help female entrepreneurship along, Oron explained that “Blackstone – as did most older investment firms – had to do some work to elevate the number of women investors, because this is a very much a men-led business.”

As such, Blackstone has made an effort to train and hire women, launch mentorship programs and invest in hi-tech awareness in high schools. These efforts have been fairly effective.

“Half of our incoming class this year of new employees are women; hopefully most of them are going to stay throughout their careers with us,” Oron said. Last year, Blackstone invested $10b. in women-led companies.

These successes are not just happenstance, however.

“It’s not happening just because it’s happening,” noted Oron. “We’re doing a lot of work, and everybody here who is employing people needs to take charge and make sure they spend a lot of energy on that as well.”

She concluded with a note regarding the importance of female representation in the business hierarchy. “If you want to be able to do the right thing, you have to have a well-balanced leadership,” she said.

“Not necessarily just CEOs; you have to have a lot of women represented well across every single layer of the organization. Research has shown that heterogeneous leadership and boards perform better than homogeneous ones. It’s pretty simple.”

Click here to read the full article on The Jerusalem Post.

Terrence Howard Claims He Invented ‘New Hydrogen Technology’ To Defend Uganda
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Terrence Howard on the red carpet for

By BET

Former Empire actor and red carpet scientist Terrence Howard is currently visiting Uganda as part of a government effort to draw investors from the African diaspora to the nation. He is claiming he has what it needs to change the world.

According to Vice, Howard made a lofty presentation on Wednesday, July 13, addressing officials and claiming to have developed a “new hydrogen technology.”

Famously, Howard argued in Rolling Stone that one times one equals two, and now he says his new system, The Lynchpin, would be able to clean the ocean and defend Uganda from exploitation via cutting-edge drone technology. The proprietary technology he announced in a 2021 press release is said to hold 86 patents.

“I was able to identify the grand unified field equation they’ve been looking for and put it into geometry,” he shared in front of an audience of Ugandan dignitaries. “We’re talking about unlimited bonding, unlimited predictable structures, supersymmetry.”

“The Lynchpins are now able to behave as a swarm, as a colony, that can defend a nation, that can harvest food, that can remove plastics from the ocean, that can give the children of Uganda and the people of Uganda an opportunity to spread this and sell these products throughout the world,” he added.

Howard, who briefly quit acting in 2019 only to come out of retirement in 2020, has seemingly made rewriting history a personal side hustle. According to Vice, he made nebulous claims that rapidly went viral on social media, saying, “I’ve made some discoveries in my own personal life with the science that, y’know, Pythagoras was searching for. I was able to open up the flower of life properly and find the real wave conjugations we’ve been looking for 10,000 years.”

While his latest claims have yet to be clarified, Howard was invited to speak by Frank Tumwebaze, the minister of agriculture, animal industries, and fishery.

Click here to read the full article on BET.

Doctors using AI catch breast cancer more often than either does alone
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scan of breast tissue with cancer

By , MIT Technology Review

Radiologists assisted by an AI screen for breast cancer more successfully than they do when they work alone, according to new research. That same AI also produces more accurate results in the hands of a radiologist than it does when operating solo.

The large-scale study, published this month in The Lancet Digital Health, is the first to directly compare an AI’s performance in breast cancer screening according to whether it’s used alone or to assist a human expert. The hope is that such AI systems could save lives by detecting cancers doctors miss, free up radiologists to see more patients, and ease the burden in places where there is a dire lack of specialists.

The software being tested comes from Vara, a startup based in Germany that also led the study. The company’s AI is already used in over a fourth of Germany’s breast cancer screening centers and was introduced earlier this year to a hospital in Mexico and another in Greece.

The Vara team, with help from radiologists at the Essen University Hospital in Germany and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, tested two approaches. In the first, the AI works alone to analyze mammograms. In the other, the AI automatically distinguishes between scans it thinks look normal and those that raise a concern. It refers the latter to a radiologist, who would review them before seeing the AI’s assessment. Then the AI would issue a warning if it detected cancer when the doctor did not.

To train the neural network, Vara fed the AI data from over 367,000 mammograms—including radiologists’ notes, original assessments, and information on whether the patient ultimately had cancer—to learn how to place these scans into one of three buckets: “confident normal,” “not confident” (in which no prediction is given), and “confident cancer.” The conclusions from both approaches were then compared with the decisions real radiologists originally made on 82,851 mammograms sourced from screening centers that didn’t contribute scans used to train the AI.

The second approach—doctor and AI working together—was 3.6% better at detecting breast cancer than a doctor working alone, and raised fewer false alarms. It accomplished this while automatically setting aside scans it classified as confidently normal, which amounted to 63% of all mammograms. This intense streamlining could slash radiologists’ workloads.

After breast cancer screenings, patients with a normal scan are sent on their way, while an abnormal or unclear scan triggers follow-up testing. But radiologists examining mammograms miss 1 in 8 cancers. Fatigue, overwork, and even the time of day all affect how well radiologists can identify tumors as they view thousands of scans. Signs that are visually subtle are also generally less likely to set off alarms, and dense breast tissue—found mostly in younger patients—makes signs of cancer harder to see.

Radiologists using the AI in the real world are required by German law to look at every mammogram, at least glancing at those the AI calls fine. The AI still lends them a hand by pre-filling reports on scans labeled normal, though the radiologist can always reject the AI’s call.

Thilo Töllner, a radiologist who heads a German breast cancer screening center, has used the program for two years. He’s sometimes disagreed when the AI classified scans as confident normal and manually filled out reports to reflect a different conclusion, but he says “normals are almost always normal.” Mostly, “you just have to press enter.”

Mammograms the AI has labeled as ambiguous or “confident cancer” are referred to a radiologist—but only after the doctor has offered an initial, independent assessment.

Radiologists classify mammograms on a 0 to 6 scale known as BI-RADS, where lower is better. A score of 3 indicates that something is probably benign, but worth checking up on. If Vara has assigned a BI-RADS score of 3 or higher to a mammogram the radiologist labels normal, a warning appears.

AI generally excels at image classification. So why did Vara’s AI on its own underperform a lone doctor? Part of the problem is that a mammogram alone can’t determine whether someone has cancer—that requires removing and testing the abnormal-looking tissue. Instead, the AI examines mammograms for hints.

Christian Leibig, lead author on the study and director of machine learning at Vara, says that mammograms of healthy and cancerous breasts can look very similar, and both types of scans can present a wide range of visual results. This complicates AI training. So does the low prevalence of cancer in breast screenings (according to Leibig, “in Germany, it’s roughly six in 1,000”). Because AIs trained to catch cancer are mostly trained on healthy breast scans, they can be prone to false positives.

The study tested the AI only on past mammogram decisions and assumed that radiologists would agree with the AI each time it issued a decision of “confident normal” or “confident cancer.” When the AI was unsure, the study defaulted to the original radiologist’s reading. That means it couldn’t test how using AI affects radiologists’ decisions—and whether any such changes may create new risks. Töllner admits he spends less time scrutinizing scans Vara labels normal than those it deems suspicious. “You get quicker with the normals because you get confident with the system,” he says.

Click here to read the full article on MIT Technology Review.

A 76 million-year-old dinosaur skeleton will be auctioned in New York City
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A 76 million-year-old gorgosaurus dinosaur skeleton

By NPR

The fossilized skeleton of a T. rex relative that roamed the earth about 76 million years ago will be auctioned in New York this month, Sotheby’s announced Tuesday.

The Gorgosaurus skeleton will highlight Sotheby’s natural history auction on July 28, the auction house said.

The Gorgosaurus was an apex carnivore that lived in what is now the western United States and Canada during the late Cretaceous Period. It predated its relative the Tyrannosaurus rex by 10 million years.

The specimen being sold was discovered in 2018 in the Judith River Formation near Havre, Montana, Sotheby’s said. It measures nearly 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 22 (6.7 meters) feet long.

All of the other known Gorgosaurus skeletons are in museum collections, making this one the only specimen available for private ownership, the auction house said.

“In my career, I have had the privilege of handling and selling many exceptional and unique objects, but few have the capacity to inspire wonder and capture imaginations quite like this unbelievable Gorgosaurus skeleton,” Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head of science and popular culture, said.

Sotheby’s presale estimate for the fossil is $5 million to $8 million.

A Gorgosaurus dinosaur skeleton is displayed at Sotheby’s New York on Tuesday.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Wells Fargo Foundation Aims to Grow Diverse Housing Developers with $40 Million Donation
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Real estate developers Dr. Gina Merritt and Julissa Carielo join the Wells Fargo Foundation Growing Diverse Housing Developers program. (Photo: Wells Fargo)

By Businesswire

The roughly $175 billion U.S. housing development market is known for high barriers to entry — and today, real estate developers of color make up less than five percent of the industry. To help address this gap, the Wells Fargo Foundation announced Growing Diverse Housing Developers, a $40 million grant initiative focused on expanding the growth and success of real estate developers of color, including Black- and Latino-owned firms.

Launched in collaboration with Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, or LIIF, Raza Development Fund, or RDF, and Reinvestment Fund, Growing Diverse Housing Developers aims to increase the supply of homes that are affordable across the country. Working together, these four Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, have selected 39 developers of color to take part in the four-year program. Participants will have access to lower-cost, flexible capital, as well as the training, mentors and resources needed to accelerate the production of multifamily and mixed-use housing development projects.

“We want to increase racial equity in real estate development, ultimately creating a more inclusive housing ecosystem,” said Bill Daley, vice chairman of Public Affairs at Wells Fargo. “One stark reality is that people of color are significantly underfunded and underrepresented in the real estate industry. Through Growing Diverse Housing Developers, we can help strengthen diverse housing developers, enabling them to grow their businesses, and at the same time, offer communities more affordable options for renters and homeowners.”

“This program confronts the systemic barriers that have kept developers of color behind many of their peers — barriers that have also limited the ability for communities of color to thrive,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Capital Impact Partners and CDC Small Business Finance. “We are proud to work with Wells Fargo, LIIF, Reinvestment Fund, and RDF to help both the people who will develop projects in communities across the United States and the community members who will further benefit from many of those same projects.”

“With this program, we can amplify Latino-led housing developers who too often do not have the support they need to succeed. And in doing so, we can increase the amount of quality housing developments across the U.S,” said Tommy Espinoza, CEO of Raza Development Fund, the nation’s largest Latino-serving CDFI. “Homeownership is key for communities of color because it creates stability for the family and is the quickest way to own an asset. We’re proud to work with Wells Fargo to create better opportunities for our communities.”

2022 program participants selected by coalition of mission-driven CDFIs

Through a $30 million grant from Wells Fargo, Capital Impact Partners joined forces with LIIF and Reinvestment Fund to create a national learning cohort of 27 housing developers (PDF), both nonprofit and for-profit, who are based out of California, Georgia, Texas, and the Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., metropolitan regions. The developers will have access to capital and resources to advance their development pipelines and grow their business, including capacity-building grants funded by Wells Fargo, and more than $100 million in additional funding the CDFIs have committed toward innovative loan products.

“We don’t just build houses – we build communities where people want to live and can attain the best futures possible,” said Dr. Gina Merritt, principal of Northern Real Estate Urban Ventures, LLC based in Washington D.C., and founder of Project Community Capital. Merritt is taking part in the Growing Diverse Housing Developers program and specializes in projects that provide residents with access to employment and health services, childcare, community spaces, and other support services. “We use social capital to identify, qualify, and train residents from underestimated communities with RTA – reliability, trustworthiness, and ambition. Everyone deserves a decent, safe place to live and access to economic opportunity.”

J. Tommy Espinoza Growing Diverse Housing Developers Fellowship

With a $10 million grant from Wells Fargo, RDF launched the J. Tommy Espinoza Growing Diverse Housing Developers Fellowship, a four-year professional development program for Latino and Black-led real estate firms. The fellowship is comprised of 12 developers, including UnidosUS affiliates and other non-profits, who are already building and preserving multifamily rental housing and for-sale development projects across the country. The fellows will receive access to capital and mentoring, and will convene at least quarterly for learning sessions provided by RDF and the Council of Development Finance Agencies.

Julissa Carielo, construction entrepreneur and J. Tommy Espinoza GDHD fellow, co-founded DreamOn Development Company in San Antonio to “build things that matter,” including mixed-use housing projects that also bring jobs, businesses, and services to underutilized areas. As one of the few Latina business owners in her field, Carielo says the RDF fellowship program “will provide invaluable funding for development projects, and connections to developers from all over the country that have a vested interest in creating more housing and transforming communities.”

About Capital Impact Partners

Through capital and commitment, Capital Impact Partners helps people build communities of opportunity that break barriers to success. We work to champion key issues of equity and social and economic justice by deploying mission-driven financing, capacity-building programs, and impact investing opportunities. A nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution, Capital Impact has disbursed more than $2.5 billion since 1982. In 2020, Capital Impact launched a new enterprise with CDC Small Business Finance under one leadership team and national strategy to reinvent traditional and mainstream financial systems. Our goal is to ensure these systems equitably serve communities of color to drive community-led solutions that support economic mobility and wealth creation. Our leadership in delivering financial and social impact has resulted in Capital Impact being rated by S&P Global and recognized by Aeris for our performance. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Capital Impact Partners operates nationally, with local offices in Austin, Texas, Detroit, Michigan, New York, and Oakland, California.

About Raza Development Fund

Founded in 1999 as a support corporation of UnidosUS, formerly known as National Council of La Raza (NCLR), RDF provides access to capital and financing solutions to non-profits, UnidosUS affiliates, and other Latino serving organizations across the country with the mission of breaking the cycle of poverty in low-income communities. Since its inception, RDF has provided organizations serving Latino and poor families in 38 states with technical assistance and financings in excess of $1 billion, which have leveraged over $5 billion in private and public capital for education, childcare, affordable housing, social services projects and, most recently, small businesses. Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, RDF lends nationwide and has offices in Seattle, New York City, Texas, and Florida.

Click here to read the full article on Businesswire.

At 17, she was her family’s breadwinner on a McDonald’s salary. Now she’s gone into space
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Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced he'll be on board a spaceflight next month, in a capsule attached to a rocket made by his space exploration company Blue Origin. Bezos is seen here in 2019.

By Jackie Wattles, CNN

A rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin carried its fifth group of passengers to the edge of space, including the first-ever Mexican-born woman to make such a journey.

The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket took off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26am ET, vaulting a group of six people to more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface — which is widely deemed to make the boundary of outer space — and giving them a few minutes of weightlessness before parachuting to landing.

Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity to join this mission from a pool of thousands of applicants. The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” to space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon frequently reported by astronauts who say that viewing the Earth from space give them a profound shift in perspective.

Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my own way.”

“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said. “And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do.”

Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who joined one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.

She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven, and she recalls being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned her she might have to be held back.
“It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.

When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also the main breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary.

“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
These days, Echazarreta is working on her master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at NASA’s famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also boasts a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series and is a presenter on the weekend CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.”

Space for Humanity — which was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently joined a Blue Origin flight himself — chose her for her impressive contributions. “We were looking for some like people who were leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; people who are doing really great work in the world already, and people who are passionate about whatever that is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit’s executive director, told CNN Business.

Click here to read the full article on CNN.

Disabled people are ‘invisible by exclusion’ in politics, says Assemblymember running to be the first openly autistic member of Congress
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Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou

By , Business Insider

The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.

Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.

“I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”

Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.

Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”

Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.

“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.

The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.

Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.

Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.

“We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.

Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.

Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.

FAA Launches ‘Be ATC’ Campaign to Recruit Next Diverse Generation of Air Traffic Controllers
LinkedIn
air traffic controller

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching “Be ATC,” a recruiting campaign to hire the next generation of air traffic controllers. The application window will be open nationwide from June 24-27 for all eligible U.S. citizens.

Air traffic controllers are part of the FAA’s fast-paced, active team of 14,000 professionals in radar facilities and in air traffic control towers who keep the skies safe across the nation. Controllers have a tremendous responsibility, handling an average of 45,000 flights a day and more than 5,000 aircraft traversing the skies at once during peak times.

Anyone interested in becoming an air traffic controller can view more about eligibility requirements and application instructions at faa.gov/be-atc. Applicants can begin building a profile and learn how to apply.

Building on last year’s successful campaign to receive more applications from women and other underrepresented groups, the FAA will again work with diverse organizations, host Instagram Live conversations, and work with social media influencers and others. The FAA has created a digital toolkit to get the word out.

“We know that different perspectives add value to any organization, so it is important that we attract people with a wide range of backgrounds to help enhance our safety mission,” said Virginia Boyle, Vice President for System Operations Services in the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization.

“It’s a challenging job, but it’s also rewarding. At the end of the day when you get home and look up at the sky, you know that what you’ve done makes a difference,” said Jeffrey Vincent, Vice President for Air Traffic Services in the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, speak English clearly and be no older than 30 (with limited exceptions). They must have either three years of general work experience or four years of education leading to a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of both. Applicants must also pass the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA). Individuals who are selected are also required to pass all pre-employment requirements, including a medical examination, security investigation, and drug test.

Selected candidates will train at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Okla. After successful completion of training, they will be placed in a radar facility or air traffic tower. Staffing needs will determine facility assignment, and applicants must be willing to work anywhere in the United States.

“As aerospace technology continues to grow, we need people to join the FAA to ensure our airspace continues to be the safest in the world,” said FAA Deputy Administrator A. Bradley Mims. “We are looking for a diverse pool of candidates who are ready to rise to the challenge and become air traffic controllers.”

The FAA’s controller workforce reached about 14,000 in fiscal year 2021. The FAA hired 509 new controllers in fiscal year 2021, and the FAA plans to hire more than 4,800 controllers over the next five years.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. 44th Annual BDPA National Conference
    August 18, 2022 - August 20, 2022
  4. Diversity Alliance for Science (DA4S) West Coast Conference
    August 30, 2022 - September 1, 2022
  5. Diversity Alliance for Science (DA4S) Matchmaking Events
    September 1, 2022
  6. Commercial UAV Expo Americas
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. 44th Annual BDPA National Conference
    August 18, 2022 - August 20, 2022
  4. Diversity Alliance for Science (DA4S) West Coast Conference
    August 30, 2022 - September 1, 2022
  5. Diversity Alliance for Science (DA4S) Matchmaking Events
    September 1, 2022
  6. Commercial UAV Expo Americas
    September 6, 2022 - September 8, 2022