RIC hosts White House initiative on Hispanic education

Brenda Dann-Messier addresses summit attendees, including RIC President Nancy Carriuolo and Obama administration official José Rico. <br>(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)

Brenda Dann-Messier addresses summit attendees, including RIC President Nancy Carriuolo and Obama administration official José Rico.
(Photo: Gene St. Pierre '77)

Calling it “White House week for Rhode Island College,” RIC President Nancy Carriuolo opened a special forum on improving education for the Latino community that featured Obama administration officials and local elected and community leaders.

Photo gallery
The White House Initiative Hispanic Community Action Summit was held on Jan. 25 in RIC’s Alger Hall – the day after, noted Carriuolo, that RIC student Travis Escobar attended the president’s State of the Union address.

Carriuolo described the daylong event as an “important forum that will enable us to exchange ideas and insights as we work together to identify ways to enhance educational opportunities for Hispanics.”

Among the administration participants was RIC alum Brenda Dann-Messier ’73, who Carriuolo characterized as “one of RIC’s great success stories.”

Dann-Messier, a U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary, leads efforts in adult education and career and technical education, as well as community colleges and correctional education. She oversees the administration of 11 grant programs in these areas, totaling approximately $1.9 billion annually.

Dann-Messier, who earned a BA and Med at RIC, said she was “thrilled to be back home in Providence.”

Prior to joining the Obama administration she had served for a decade as president of the Dorcas Place Adult and Family Learning Center, a community-based adult education agency based in Providence.

“I carry the hopes and dreams of all the students that we served at Dorcas Place with me every day on the job,” she said.

Sen. Jack Reed

Brenda Dann-Messier
Dann-Messier said that a notebook on her desk includes letters from students at Dorcas Place for President Obama and education secretary Arne Duncan. The letters contain the students’ hopes, dreams and aspirations.

“So when the bureaucracy gets a little tough to maneuver,” said Dann-Messier, “I take a moment and read their letters, and it inspires me and reminds me why I am in Washington.”

Several federal, state and local elected officials also attended the summit.

Sen. Jack Reed told attendees, “We all recognize the prosperity of this state and this nation will rest in large part on the success of the Latino community.”

He said it was necessary to tap into “the great power and influence of the whole community” and later added: “Education is the dividing line between whether we succeed or whether we fail.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee told summit attendees, “We’re going to work together to have educational excellence in the State of Rhode Island.”

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said, “We need to make sure that we educate our kids. If we want to be competitive in the future, we need to make sure that our children are ready to compete in the future.”

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras speaks at the summit.
José Rico, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, explained that the goals of the forum were for participants to learn about what is happening the communities, to connect everyone with the leaders in attendance and to come up with “clear action steps” going forward.

“The reason that we’re here today is because we know we’re all in this together,” Rico said.

Rico outlined the “open space” process to be used in the summit, which essentially allowed the participants to identify the topics, issues and questions they wished to explore.

Also addressing the forum from the Obama administration were Eduardo Ochoa, assistant secretary for postsecondary education; Elizabeth Grant, senior policy advisor in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Gabriel Sandoval, senior advisor on civil rights for White House Initiative; and Miriam Calderón, senior advisor for the Administration for Children and Families.