Kicking off this year's Latino-Hispanic Heritage Celebration, U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios spoke at the University of Richmond this week. Rios touched on the role the country’s Latino population will play in the economic recovery, but also spoke candidly with the audience of mostly students.

“I appreciate the way she revamped her discussion in order to address many of the issues we are presently experiencing,” said Valentina Facyson, ’13. “Throughout her talk she stressed the importance of finding your own identity and doing what you want to do, which definitely hit home for me, because I am still on a journey to find what I am most passionate about.”

Rios, a first-generation Mexican-American, talked about her own college experience at Harvard University in the 1980s. "Not everyone looked like I did … there [was] literally a handful of Hispanic students,” she said. Because she shared the college experience with roommates of different backgrounds, Rios was inspired to start a student group dedicated to the celebration of cultural diversity.

“For most people, college … is their renaissance. It’s the first time you connect with your own identity,” said Rios. “What’s important, no matter what you do, is to find your passion."

Sticking to her credo of “never say never,” Rios followed her passions to her appointment as the nation’s 43rd treasurer. On the path there, she worked in economic development, real estate, and investment management. “My career happened to culminate at a time when the country was facing issues that were focused on jobs, housing, and access to capital, which was right up my alley,” she said.

Rios had been planning a day trip to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond when she received the invitation to speak on campus. “I get hundreds of invitations, and I am very selective about where I speak,” she said. But she was eager to “meet students in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month” at the University.

The invitation came from Professor Carlos Valencia of the Latin American and Iberian Studies department. Valencia teaches a unique, living-learning version of the department’s Spanish in the Community course, in which students not only take a class, volunteer, and attend events together, but also share a living area in a coed residence hall.

Facyson, a sociology major, attended the treasurer’s talk the day after returning from Washington, D.C., where she attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute with Dr. Valencia. The timing worked well. After the institute, she said she had a better understanding of “the steps many Hispanic leaders are taking to fight for better opportunities for Hispanics and other minorities.”

“Rios expressed the great impact of Hispanics to the economy and the importance of human capital to the wealth of the nation,” said Facyson. The treasurer repeatedly emphasized that investing in human capital — in education and in resources — is not only key for the nation’s economic recovery, but also for individual success.

Katie Apolinario, ’13, another of Dr. Valencia’s students, took this message to heart. “It starts with us: personal investments," she said. "Investments don't always work out, but if you're taking the ‘right’ steps, other doors of opportunity may come along. And she definitely reminded us as well to be alert for those.”

Richmond’s Latino-Hispanic Heritage Celebration includes over a dozen events between Sept. 14 and Oct. 16.