COLLEGE STATION − As Aggies celebrate 50 Years of Inclusion − recognizing the formal admission of women and African-Americans into Texas A&M University − Aggie Joseph Puente, a student senator and executive director of the Hispanic Presidents' Council, reflects on the university's diversity efforts, what leadership means in today's society and his hopes for future Aggies.
Puente, a junior telecommunication media studies major from San Antonio, says he's pleased to see this fall's record minority enrollment; the university reports the main campus Hispanic/Latino student population has grown to 17.4 percent and African-Americans are at 3.4 percent, helping bring ethnic/minority enrollment to more than 25 percent of the total student population.
Hispanics are forecast to become the majority in Texas by 2020 and Puente, who was just elected for his second term in the student senate as an off-campus senator, says the university is reaching out to Hispanics, developing programs and initiatives to further their success in education and the working world.
"Texas A&M is aware of the increasing Hispanic population, and has committed to educating and creating leaders for a better tomorrow," he notes. "That is why I believe more Hispanics are choosing to attend Texas A&M."
Puente says in today's diverse society, the definition of a great leader is one who builds relationships in different communities and is understanding of each group's diverse issues.
"Growing up in San Antonio in predominantly white schools and neighborhoods and then later being involved in the multicultural community, I've been able to learn so much from my peers," he explains. "I've furthered my knowledge on many topics such as religion, sexual-orientation, gender and culture. Everything I've learned and every relationship I've made within these communities have contributed to my leadership skills by helping me to be more a more sensitive and inclusive leader."
Leadership also means learning − both from those around him and those before him, says Puente. "Then it’s your duty to mentor and teach someone younger how to lead and not make the mistakes of the past," he adds.
Puente says it's important for him to represent his Hispanic heritage in a positive way. "Hispanics are often negatively stereotyped based on what the media portrays," he says, "so for me, it’s taking the idea of being the change I want to see. It’s important to be assertive and pursue leadership positions where your voice is heard and representation is acknowledged.
"This university offers so many opportunities to develop students into leaders, but the Hispanic community and other multicultural groups are often left out due to a lack of community outreach from organizations that host leadership conferences or have a great influence on campus."
Puente says he hopes to inspire other students to step out of their comfort zones and "branch out to create real change around campus. I would like to see more Hispanic and other minority students in positions such as student body president, yell leader and MSC president."
In addition to his duties as a student senator, Puente works to unite the Hispanic voice on campus through the Hispanic Presidents’ Council, a sponsored organization in the Department of Multicultural Services.
He also works part-time in the Office of Admissions & Records and says there he's learned the importance of recruitment in the university's diversity efforts. "I believe that if we strengthen the presence of the Prospective Student Centers, they can further reach into communities and perhaps more minority students would be encouraged to apply and enroll," he notes.
Puente is set graduate in May 2014 and hopes to work in public relations for a professional sports team and even dreams of working in communications at the White House.
As a first-generation college student, Puente says he appreciates the many sacrifices his parents made to help him succeed. "Both of my parents did not go to college, and with five kids, we struggled many times growing up. But everything I experienced has created the man I am today. Every day is a blessing, and I am thankful for the clothes I'm able to wear and the nice things many others take for granted."
He concludes that Texas A&M is ideally suited to train the leaders of the future. "Texas A&M is an institution dedicated to serving the greater good and I firmly believe Aggies reflect the six core values. There is so much potential for everyone to become a better person and leader, and Texas A&M provides that foundation for success. As with everything else in life, you get out what you put in."