Growing up in East LA after immigrating from El Salvador, McKay School alumnus José Enriquez, PhD, learned how to make the most of what he had and to do what no one around him had done before. Having that mindset from a young age has helped him greatly in his career. “You have to be creative; you have to take different angles.”
Enriquez first came to BYU on a full-ride scholarship for wrestling. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish teaching, but his professors encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership. While working towards a master’s, Enriquez taught classes during the day. Studying and teaching simultaneously was a valuable experience for his career. “Having practice in the day and research in the evening together was powerful because you got to see it in action,” said Enriquez.
After working as an assistant principal and as director of student educational equity in both Provo City and Alpine school districts, Enriquez moved on to the Utah State Office of Education, where he oversaw Title III, which supports English learners, immigrants, and refugee students as they prepare for college, career, and beyond. Although Enriquez enjoyed his time working in the public school system, he felt that it didn’t fully align with his goals and vision. Enriquez wanted to maximize his potential and impact by helping the younger generation of students do the same. “They bring a lot of assets, but there’s nothing in the public school system that allows them to showcase those assets,” said Enriquez.
In 2001, Enriquez launched Latinos in Action (LIA), a nonprofit organization designed to develop Latino students’ talents, and more importantly, to use those talents to give back and help others. One of the biggest benefits of LIA is its mentorship program. Twice a week across 13 states, Latino/a high schoolers visit elementary schools to tutor younger students, providing mentorship and role models.
“We could teach students about Latino heroes, or we can create our own heroes from within,” said Enriquez. Creating leadership opportunities for students at a young age builds strong leaders because it allows them to see that they can make a difference. On top of gaining soft skills, students learn how to build service projects, run social activities, create professional assemblies and parent-teacher conferences, conduct meetings, and create meeting agendas.
Enriquez credits the EdLF department for his passion for education. “It was a door to the world of education and really understanding what leadership in education looked like.” The master’s program allowed Enriquez to understand leadership in school systems so he could help teach leadership skills to others. The importance of research was also key in Enriquez’ EdLF experience. “It allowed me to see that there is a discussion in every field. I learned how to critique and question the author in a sense that helped me realize that anyone can be a part of the conversation in academia—you just have to understand it, do the research, and add to it.”
The research skills Enriquez learned from EdLF have helped him immensely with deepening the purpose and focus of LIA. The data and statistics knowledge that has come from his research has helped him learn best practices to receive grants and enlist donors, which are crucial for any nonprofit organization.
Enriquez encourages those in the EdLF program to take their time and really dive into what is being taught because there is a lot to learn that will be beneficial later. However, Enriquez’s greatest takeaways from his education were relationships, both the ones he made and the ones he has helped others create from LIA. “It’s all about the relationships. What is most important are the people in front of you.”
Writer: Cameron Hussein
Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922