By Carol Kerbaugh

Equity Fellows are devoted to dismantling barriers for Latinx communities

The Center for Public Leadership (CPL)’s Equity Fellowship Program supports students who plan to devote their careers to understanding and dismantling barriers to equity across society, particularly for the Black/African American and Latino communities in the United States, and other marginalized populations.  

In addition to providing financial support toward a master’s degree at Harvard Kennedy School, the Equity Fellowship Program offers comprehensive co-curricular programming and a network of peers and mentors to support students’ ability to impact the communities they serve. Programming includes dinner seminars, an annual retreat, and experiential learning opportunities.  

In recognition of Latinx Heritage Month—celebrated annually from September 15 to October 15—several Equity Fellows focused on the U.S. Latino community reflect on their work to address inequities in Latinx and Hispanic communities, their HKS experiences, and involvement in CPL.  

 

Amber Gonzales-Vargas MPA 2024 Woman smiling at camera with pearly white teeth and long dark cascading hair.

Addressing the lack of capital going toward the Latine* community has been a theme throughout Amber Gonzales-Vargas MPA 2024’s work.  

“My ‘north star’ has been the liberation of capital to underserved communities,” she explains.  

Before enrolling in the Master in Public Administration (MPA) Program at HKS, along with a concurrent business program at MIT Sloan School of Management, Amber spent six years working for the Latino Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization that invests in Latino-led organizations in California.  

As a graduate student, Amber has continued to focus her efforts on Latine populations, completing two internships focused on diversity within venture capital. Last summer, Amber consulted with Diversity VC and SomosVC, and this past summer, she interned with Vamos Ventures in Los Angeles. She sees an opportunity to diversify the venture capital space, not just about where funding goes, but also the workforce within venture capital. 

Amber finished her MIT Sloan coursework in June and is spending her final year here at HKS. While she is grateful for the quantitative skills she gained through her MBA program at MIT Sloan, she’s glad to be back at HKS and to have found a home base within CPL.  

“It feels like coming home... being somewhere that is values-driven. There's a different energy and focus within the HKS community that I was drawn to. It has felt like a space where I can get back to the heart of what I hope to accomplish.”

Amber Gonzales-Vargas MPA 2024

“Splitting my time between Sloan and HKS last year, it wasn’t necessarily easy to build a community. CPL’s co-curricular activities have been central to my integration in the HKS community,” she reflects.  

“The fellowship provides an opportunity for a lot of introspection and consistent reflection on the choices that you're making—from the classes you choose, to the organizations you're getting involved in, to the jobs and ventures you apply to. To do that reflection within a community of like-minded individuals who are also thinking about what they can do for the communities they serve is a really special opportunity.” 

*When referring to the general community, Amber uses “Latine” rather than “Latinx.”  

 

Alejandra Cuin Miranda MPA 2024 Woman with radiant smile wearing a sage colored blazer with trees blurred in the background

After graduating from Wellesley College, Alejandra Cuin Miranda MPA 2024 began her career working in management consulting. As a public sector consultant, she worked with national nonprofit organizations and federal agencies—such as the Social Security Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture—to expand the social safety net. But when she traveled to her hometown in rural Washington state, she struggled to see the impact of the kinds of projects she was working on.  

“I felt the projects I was working on were impactful, but I never really saw it trickle down whenever I would go home. I knew a lot of people in my hometown relied on these services, so I wanted to figure out how to make a bigger impact locally.”

Alejandra Cuin Miranda MPA 2024

That led Alejandra to learn more about impact investing. She’s hoping to take the knowledge she has gained through the MPA Program and her concurrent business degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to work directly with founders and entrepreneurs focused on making meaningful investments to expand access to underserved populations.  

Like Amber, Alejandra has found a home within CPL.  

“In a program like the MPA Program that doesn’t have lot of structure or a core curriculum, I feel I may have been a bit lost without the tight-knit community I found through CPL. It’s become my foundation at HKS. They are the ones who I go to if I’m struggling with school or what I really want to do with my career. Having the CPL community as a resource has made it easier for me to hit the ground running. It's been a transformational experience.” 

Alejandra Perez-Weinold MC/MPA 2024 Woman with sleek dark hair wearing a ruby red blazer.

Born and raised in New York City as the daughter of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic, Alejandra Perez-Weinold MC/MPA 2024 has pursued a dual career track working in law enforcement and as an attorney. 

“Fundamentally, I’ve always wanted to help people,” she says. “For me, policing is a profession where you’re able to have a direct impact on the community you serve.”  

While working in the New York Police Department (NYPD), she enrolled in law school to help propel her through the ranks of the agency. While she initially didn’t think she would practice law, she has been able to merge her two career paths in the last several years, serving simultaneously as a sergeant in the NYPD and as an attorney in the police commissioner’s office.  

She applied to the Kennedy School to position herself to further succeed within the NYPD.  

“My initial goal was to get promoted as far as I can within the agency,” she says. “I wanted to come to HKS to learn how to be a better leader. I figured HKS and the leadership and management skills I would gain here would help with what I am trying to accomplish.” 

In addition to gaining leadership skills through the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA) Program, Alejandra will participate in co-curricular programming focused on developing principled, effective public leadership as part of the Equity Fellowship.  

While co-curricular programming for the academic year is just getting underway, Alejandra is already experiencing the benefits of the fellowship.  

“I didn’t have role models I could talk to about academics or professional development. The biggest takeaway from the Equity Fellowship is to speak to people who look like me—Hispanics, particularly Hispanic women—who have a strong drive and perspective.”

Alejandra Perez-Weinold MC/MPA 2024

What’s next for Alejandra after her year at HKS is yet to be determined, but Alejandra is confident that she will return to the public sector where she can continue to make an impact on the communities she serves.  

 

Emily Gonçalves MPP 2025     Woman with dark wavy hair, smiling and wearing rose-colored framed eye glasses.

Emily Gonçalves MPP 2025’s passion for addressing issues of equity stems from her upbringing in a predominantly Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking immigrant community in New Jersey. She recalls being involved in public service from a young age, reflecting that her family has always been very active in cultural activities and politics. 

“Growing up in Portuguese and Spanish speaking immigrant communities and being involved in them made me passionate about looking at what my place was and how I could best use my talents to serve those communities.”

Emily Gonçalves MPP 2025

She entered the tech industry after graduating from Vanderbilt University. While her roles in tech allowed her to balance her analytical and creative sides, she found herself seeking opportunities to connect with a greater purpose. 

“I decided to partner with local organizations in Nashville such as Conexion Americas, which aims to provide resources like college access and translation services for Latino families. But that wasn't my day job. At the end of the day, I want to work in service of others doing something that directly is addressing inequity, particularly for immigrants and refugees. That’s what brought me here.”  

Emily is grateful and humbled to be part of the Equity Fellows community.  

“You have people who range from relatively junior in their careers to mid-career professionals, all part of this same community. Even within the Equity Fellowship, there are people like myself that are focused on the Latin community, and then there are people who are focused on the Black community and others looking at various marginalized communities. But something that we're all passionate about is addressing these barriers and disparities in society,” Emily reflects.  

“I'm so grateful to have this opportunity, and I hope that I can live a life such that other people can have whatever it is they define to be their dream opportunity, too.”  

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