Pictured clockwise from top left: Diana Patterson, Fawn-Amber Montoya, Hector Cendejas, Steve Burkholder, and Lisette Carbajal.
The college-access nonprofit Scholars Latino Initiative (SLI) has begun its second decade of service in Virginia by welcoming its newest chair and four new members to its board of directors.
“At its core, SLI is a community-based organization led by volunteer board members committed to our mission to support higher education opportunities for Latinx young people,” said Jason Good, Ph.D., who served as chair from 2019-2022 and is the vice president for enrollment management at Ringling College of Art and Design. “The board has provided vital leadership in SLI’s founding and development over the past decade, bringing us to this moment, and its current and growing strength promises an even brighter future.”
Incorporated in 2012 and a 501c3 nonprofit, SLI creates college access opportunities through collaborations with public school teachers and local university faculty, staff, and student mentors. SLI also offers financial assistance to its scholars, and has awarded more than $468,000 in college scholarships, computer awards, and dual enrollment tuition assistance. Its alumni have attended 21 colleges and universities.
The newly appointed chair and four new board members have backgrounds in higher education, finance, government affairs and policy, social work, advocacy, and business.
Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ph.D. of Harrisonburg has assumed the role of chair. A board member since 2021, she is associate dean for diversity, inclusion and external engagement at James Madison University. Before assuming her role at JMU in 2019, Montoya directed the Honors program at Colorado State University Pueblo, where she received awards for service, advising, and mentoring, was a professor of history who taught courses in race, ethnicity, and gender, and focused on Mexican-American history. She has consulted on numerous museum exhibits, co-authored Practicing Oral History to Connect University to Community, and edited Making An American Workforce: The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s Construction of a Workforce during the Rockefeller Years.
“Me ha impresionado el trabajo que se ha logrado en los últimos 10 años y me emociona tener esta oportunidad de servir a mi gente en Virginia,” Montoya said. “I am thrilled to be serving as the board chair for SLI, and excited to work with board members and SLI staff to support high school students. I know how important it is for the Latino/a/x population to have an organization like SLI that can assist high school students with getting to and being successful in higher education.”
Steve Burkholder of Broadway is a financial planner at Everence Financial and joined to be treasurer of the SLI board. He and his wife Olivia have two boys, Carson and Micah, and are active members of Eastside Church where they serve as small group leaders. A graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, he has taught middle and high school math and coached baseball and golf in Shenandoah County Public Schools.
“I am excited to join this board that cares deeply about the SLI students and hope to provide my areas of expertise to help further its mission,” Burkholder said.
Lisette Carbajal of Richmond is a member of Capital One’s State and Local Government Affairs Group. She also serves as chief of staff for HOLA, Capital One’s Hispanic business/associate resource group. She previously was director of government affairs of the Virginia Health Care Association and a policy advisor and community integration coordinator at Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. She was appointed as a policy advisor and Latino liaison by Governor Terry McAuliffe to his administration in 2014.
Carbajal has served on the Virginia Board of Health Professions and the Virginia Advisory Board in Service and Volunteerism, and currently serves on the Board of Visitors to Mount Vernon, Alzheimer’s Association: Greater Richmond Chapter Board of Directors, and Virginia Health Catalyst Board of Directors. She is also engaged with other Alzheimer’s-related organizations including the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers and Hilarity for Charity.
Carbajal’s parents immigrated from Lima, Peru. Despite being born in the United States, English is her second language. She received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in foreign affairs with a concentration in Latin America, and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Virginia Tech. She is married to Graham Elder and has a goldendoodle Lilo.
“My experience navigating through the higher education system was an unknown path, as no one in my family had ever gone to college before me,” she said. “Being able to guide students in achieving their goal to obtain a higher education is a passion of mine since I know the opportunities it can bring. SLI’s work not only allows students to explore opportunities outside of their surroundings; it also allows them to achieve the social and economic success many immigrant parents wish for their children.”
Hector Cendejas of Arlington is the family reunification program director at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, an adjunct faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and George Mason University, and an online adjunct field liaison at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. He has been a social work field instructor for students from VCU, GMU, Capella University, and Columbia University.
He has served on the Manassas Park city council, the human services policy committee and board of directors of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and the human development and education policy and legislative committees of the Virginia Municipal League. He was an alternate commissioner for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission and the Virginia Railway Expressway, and an advisory board member for Mason and Partners Clinic.
Cendejas received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Georgetown University, a master of social work in community organization, planning, and administration from University of Southern California, and a master of education in human development and psychology, child advocacy strand, from Harvard University.
“I believe in serving our community of future leaders!” he said.
Diana Patterson of Winchester is owner and CEO of DSP Marketing & Consulting and a Hispanic/Latino business consultant for Laurel Ridge Small Business Development Center. A native of El Salvador and naturalized in the United States in 2018, she also serves on the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley board of directors, the Shenandoah University School of Business board of advisors, and the governor’s Virginia Latino Advisory Board, for which she chairs the business and workforce committee. She was an inaugural member of the SLI advisory council.
“I grew up worrying that my family or I could be deported any day, translating for my parents, and accepting the fact that I would become just another blue collar worker like my mother and father. I am now passionate about mentoring youth who may still be in that situation, to help them appreciate their bilingualism, have gratitude for the pressure to mature at an early age, and develop a desire to become the next generation of community servants and leaders,” she said.
“I am delighted to have such expansive representation on the board of directors,” said Stephania Cervantes, SLI managing director. “Along with their expertise, the new members provide perspectives that deepen SLI’s commitment to inclusive excellence through leadership. Our cohort of scholars will benefit significantly from seeing and learning from a group of people that represent their cultural identity and academic aspirations. ¡Será una experiencia muy enriquecedora trabajar junto a ellos!”