Rosie Rios, a first-generation Mexican-American, began her working career by picking fruit in San Jose, Calif., and is currently the 43rd treasurer of the United States.
University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers welcomed Rios to the university before she spoke in the Alice Jepson Theatre to an audience of students, faculty and guests.
In honor of the 2010 Latino-Hispanic Heritage Celebration, Rios discussed the role of the Hispanic population in the economic recovery. Rios also gave advice to Richmond students based on her personal experiences.
"Don't ever hesitate to take strategic risks," Rios said. "There's nothing wrong with risks, as long as you do your homework."
Rios, who receives hundreds of invitations to speak at various institutions, agreed to lecture at Richmond before her day-trip to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
"As the new director of community-based learning programs in the [Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies,]" said Carlos Valencia, "one of my goals is to bring a significant keynote speaker to our campus every year to kick off the Hispanic heritage month."
Rios was one of nine children raised in a single-parent household in San Francisco, Calif. Her mother believed that education was the key to life, and Rios adopted that mindset.
She received a bachelor's degree in sociology and romance languages from Harvard University, and later earned a business degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
Speaking to the students in the audience, Rios said: "I have always believed that there's opportunity in every environment. This is just the beginning for all of you."
Closely adhering to a "never say never" dogma, Rios took advantage of her liberal arts education and pursued many careers before she was nominated to be the 43rd U.S. treasurer.
"I worked 30 hours a week in high school," Rios said. "It gave me the discipline to take myself to the next level. For me, that was an investment ... Always invest in yourself."
Rios previously served as the managing director of investments at Mac Farlane Partners, and also had careers in economic development and real estate.
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"It was something unique and serendipitous about how I came to be here," Rios said. "Two years ago, I never would have thought that I would be in the position I am today."
Rios went on to discuss the current economic crisis, highlighting the adverse effects the crisis has had on the Hispanic population.
"It was scary on Wall Street," Rios said regarding the peak of the financial crisis. "It was scary in Middle America, and it was scary on the job front."
During January 2009, more than 750,000 jobs were lost, Rios said. Since then, Rios has been an integral part of a transition team that has worked on a number of initiatives to stabilize the economy and the job market.
"My career happened to culminate at a time when the country was in the midst of this crisis," Rios said. "In that moment in time, how could I say no [to this job offer]?"
The primary initiative is job creation, Rios said. Hispanics, in particular, have been disproportionately affected by the crisis.
"Demographic predictions show that Hispanics will represent 22 percent of the U.S. population by 2025," Valencia said.
About 50 percent of those losing their homes in California are Hispanic, Rios said. Considering that 35 percent of the population in California is Hispanic, their losses make a considerable dent in the economy, Rios said.
"We are all responsible - more than we realize - for the creation of these problems," said Claudia Ferman, associate professor of Spanish and film studies.
Rios discussed the Jobs Bill, which is currently making its way through Congress. The Senate recently voted for closure on the legislation, and the bill will stimulate job creation, Rios said.
"There are a number of initiatives underway," Rios said. "It's been a fascinating ride, and there's a lot ahead of us."
Rios said the future generations of Hispanics must be educated.
"Hispanics are the largest minority in the United States," Valencia said. "Yet, according to the U.S. Census, only 19 percent had earned an associate degree or higher in 2008."
In comparison, 39 percent of Caucasians (28 percent of African Americans, 59 percent of Asians) received an associate degree or higher in 2008, according to the U.S. Census.
Human capital, such as education, is the best investment we can make, Rios said.
Rios, again addressing the students in the audience, continued to emphasize the importance of higher education.
"The theme is that this is the prime of your life," Rios said. "Don't ever let anyone tell you what you should be doing. Follow your passion, and do what's right for you."
Contact staff writer Fred Shaia at firstname.lastname@example.org
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