Barbara liked that PCCC was a “tight knit community” where students receive support and encouragement.

November 25, 2019

Barbara Pujols Gains Leadership Strength in the New Jersey Governor’s Hispanic Fellows Program

Shortly after Barbara Pujols graduated from PCCC last May with her associate’s degree in Human Services, she was on her way to Trenton to participate in the New Jersey Governor’s Hispanic Fellows Program.

“It was amazing,” said Barbara of the eight-week program. She attended leadership workshops, worked as an intern, and developed networking skills. Barbara also received the Class Speaker Award and was elected to deliver a speech at the Program’s July 26 graduation ceremony.

“I talked about the importance in learning to give to others, the power in having a conversation, and how to reach success,” she said.

Reflecting on her experience, Barbara said, “The biggest lesson I learned from the Program is that there is no limit to what we can do when we commit to a goal.”

When the Clifton resident first enrolled at PCCC, she was unsure of her future direction. Barbara transferred from a four-year university where she had been a nursing major, but she didn’t feel the school or program was the right fit for her.
“I was in love with psychology, but I needed a plan of action,” she explained. When Barbara found out she could study social work at PCCC, she decided to transfer.

Barbara liked that PCCC was a “tight knit community” where students receive support and encouragement. “My professors were wonderful, she said. “They helped me, guided me, and pushed me.”

A chance encounter with Carlo Ontaneda, a recruiter for the STEM department, led Barbara to the Hispanic Fellows Program “Even though I was not a STEM major, Mr. Ontaneda took the time to talk to me and suggested I apply,” she explained. “I am so grateful to him for telling me about this great opportunity.”

Barbara admits that when she first arrived in Trenton, she felt “super nervous about meeting so many new people,” but she found a welcoming environment there and settled into the experience.

The Fellows were required to complete an internship and could select from three options. Barbara interned for the Division of Community Development in Jersey City “My work involved data analytics of the research for grants,” she said.

Interns attended weekly leadership training sessions held at various facilities, including Princeton University, Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, Bristol-Myers, and UPS.

“The entire experience was very inspiring and motivating, said Barbara who had two coaches. “We learned a lot about emotional intelligence and how that affects our success in business.”

Another benefit of the training, Barbara said, was that it helped her to address the insecurities she felt as a “double minority in the business world…a woman and a person of color.”

Now stronger and more confident, Barbara has broadened her career goals. Initially, she planned to become a social worker, and she currently works as an intervention specialist with the Paterson Division of Family Services, supervising visits between parents and children involved with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency.

But Barbara is also drawn to teaching and is currently seeking a position as a substitute teacher to explore that career path. A former volunteer for AmeriCorps, she tutored public school children in math, ESL, and literacy. “I love working with kids, and I want to make a difference for these students,” said Barbara. “Most hear negative things about themselves at home and at school,” she explained. “They don’t believe they can succeed, and I want to change that.”

As a result of the Fellows Program, Barbara now wonders if she can more effectively make those changes through politics. She plans to continue her education towards a bachelor’s degree at Rutgers which will make her eligible to apply for an summer internship in the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

If she lands the internship, Barbara would be in Washington, D.C., shadowing policymakers and learning how they do what they do. “Eventually, I would like to make an impact on education through public policy,” she explained.

Whichever path she follows, Barbara will be living her definition of success. “To me, success is being happy in what you do and giving back,” she says. “ Everybody wants to be loved.”

Written by Linda Telesco
Photos courtesy of Barbara Pujols