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Scholars Speak

In her own words: Elizabeth Gutierrez

2023 ISPP Scholar Liz Gutierrez with Executive Director Alvarez and Lt. Gov Stratton and staff member

As an ISPP Scholar, Elizabeth Gutierrez is appointed with the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus/Latino Caucus Foundation. Her work is significant in helping to build out a new vision for the ILLCF to better meet the needs of Latino communities in Illinois by helping to better understand what are the priority needs of various neighborhoods, and what policies may be best considered by legislators as they relate to underrepresented and underserved communities. Elizabeth is also bridging partnerships between efforts in the good works of Illinois Extension that support the health and well-being of Latino communities. Elizabeth shared some thoughts with me about the ISPP program, and her work so far.

Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?

I knew that I was interested in pursuing policy within my future career and so I tried to expose myself as much as I could within my educational career. While I was able to involve myself in different opportunities, many employers of interested wanted work experience in the policy sector so when I found out about the Illini Science Policy Program- I knew I needed to continue my hands-on experience.

Tell us a bit about what you hope to accomplish as a result of being a 2023 Scholar.

As a 2023 scholar, I help the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation and Extension increase their understanding of what programs and solutions the Illinois Latino community need and ensure that Extension’s current programs are communicated and made easily accessible to the diverse Illinois communities.

Tell us a bit about what you are working on for your host agency.

The Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation (ILLCF) is going through many amazing, instrumental changes which is also occurring as ILLCF celebrates 20 years. Working alongside the Executive Director, Oswaldo Alvarez, we are managing 4 different committees (scholarship, alumni association, fundraising, and gala)  to increase the visibility and the impact of the ILLCF on the diverse Illinois communities. One of the goals is to build the connection between the younger generation and policy- to get the upcoming generation more civically engaged. Another goal of the foundation is to inform “Raices”, the policy priorities of the caucus, by having panel discussions on each of the pillars within the communities across Illinois. Through fundraising, open-listening panel discussions, and increased connection with the communities the ILLCF serves, the plan is to create a strategic plan that will build up the programs and operations of the ILLCF. There are many moving pieces but so many exciting opportunities that are sure to have an impact on the communities they are serving!

Tell us a bit about what you are working with your Extension Mentor (or what you will be doing)

I am working with Dr. Teran-Garcia and her team within the Integrated Health Disparities program of Illinois Extension to ensure that the resources and outreach initiatives that Illinois Extension offers are well known and accessible to the Latino/e/x community. Additionally, we hope to understand how we can best address health equity (which is 1 of the 5 policy priorities of ILLCF) by using informing gathered from the community panel discussions to gain further insight to the needs of the communities.

What makes the work you are doing as an ISPP Scholar meaningful to you? 

Despite my background being in nutrition, all levels of the socioecological model have an impact on an individual’s ability to thrive. My education showed me how an individual’s ability to access education, transportation, economic security, racism, etc.  can impact one’s health- so broadening and expanding my work to focus on all five pillars of ILLCF- which ultimately can impact their health is extremely meaningful to me. 

What is one thing that you have learned since becoming an ISPP Scholar that has made an impression on your transition from graduate student to career individual?

One thing that I learned in graduate school but have continued to use and master as I transitioned into this role was my ability to make connections, and really establish a relationship with individuals from various organizations. I now understand how important it is not only to make the initial connection, but to also build on it.

Why is/are the issue(s) important to the communities with which you are working?

The issues that we are working on are important to the Latino/e/x community because they all have implications on their ability to access their highest potential- whether academically, financially, or physically.

Who is impacted by the issue(s) you are working on?

The entire Latino/e/x community within Illinois.

What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?

I am using every skillset in my wheelhouse and building upon skills I did not necessarily think would be useful- which has been really fun, and exciting as I am able to be a resource in more ways than not!

If you could do one thing through this program and think “Wow, I did that,” what would you like it to be?

The ILLCF is going through a lot of organizational changes. In short, this is the first year they have ever had an executive director, and the first year they have had various committees to help with their various programs. I would be ecstatic if I could help build the organization alongside the executive director, Oswaldo Alvarez, so that they can be self-sustaining and continue the partnership with Illinois Extension so that we all can continue to serve the Latino communities of Illinois.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I am only a few months in, and I am so thankful that I pursued this program. The learning curve is steep, but the skills and knowledge I will take away are higher.

More information about the Illini Science Policy Program is available on our website.Keep reading to learn more about Elizabeth's colleagues in the of 2023 ISP Scholar Class.