Spotlight Story

03 January 2024

Yashira M. Valentín Feliciano: Fostering Opportunities for Students of Color

Category: Spotlight Story

Yashira M. Valentin Feliciano, a passionate advocate for conservation and community empowerment, has devoted her career to bridging gaps and creating opportunities for young leaders of color in conservation. As a Program Associate for Hispanic Access Foundation, Yashira’s commitment to serving her community and her beloved Puerto Rico shines through her impactful work.

Nothing is more Puerto Rican than the sound of the coquí. Its tiny body echoes a powerful sound across the night, and just like it, Yashira has led through her connections impactful work that has provided professional opportunities to students on the island, so they don’t have to search for those elsewhere. During the pandemic, in 2020, she and some colleagues fostered and created a space for virtual workshops that empowered recent graduates in their networking experiences, connecting them with resources, opportunities, and learning experiences to enhance their curriculum and careers.

Her current role at Hispanic Access Foundation involves connecting internship and fellowship programs with federal agencies, that in turn provide vital support to leaders of color venturing into conservation-driven career paths. Yashira’s dedication to serving her community extends beyond her professional responsibilities. Her involvement with the MANO (My Access to Network Opportunities) Project has been transformative, particularly in Puerto Rico. Through this initiative, she has facilitated internship opportunities, enabling local hiring post-internships, thereby paving the way for aspiring conservation professionals to support their communities.

Yashira’s advocacy has addressed the systemic challenges that delay opportunities for young conservationists in Puerto Rico. Through the internships, the organization offers essential benefits like commuting stipends, hourly wages, housing stipends, and health insurance, which empowers individuals to focus on their passion for conservation without financial barriers.

“I am supported by ambition. My mission is to give to others.”

With the mountains as her surrounding landscape and the ocean at a close distance, she
describes her journey as one embodied in resilience, determination, and a profound love for environmental sciences.

“I am based most of the year in Tampa, Florida, but my home is Puerto Rico. I am 100% Boricua, and I think I didn’t fully appreciate what I had in my backyard until I had to leave the island for multiple internships I completed in college.”

Her pursuit of creating pathways for others is deeply rooted in her own experiences and challenges faced during her academic journey.

Although she completed an undergraduate degree in biotechnology, she later transitioned to environmental engineering, and added to her curriculum in conservation her experiences fostering opportunities for others and through her internships, reflecting a diverse yet cohesive narrative that shaped her into an environmental science professional. It was through her experiences networking and in the field that fortified her commitment to conservation.

“I take my job seriously. Just for the fact that I care a lot about my students. We do a lot of outreach activities. We are constantly reviewing our process and how we do what we do, ensuring our recruitment process is very intentional and very supportive of a diverse pool of applicants”.

Joining Hispanic Access Foundation was a significant step for Yashira, aligning her passion for mentorship and conservation with a platform that supports leaders of color.

“It has provided me an opportunity to not only serve my Latino community but also give back to my Island, Puerto Rico. Since I have been in my position, we have gained more internship positions on the island with an opportunity for local hiring after the internship ends thanks to our non-competitive hiring status that is part of the internships, and we are paving the way for the new generation of conservation professionals that want to stay home and support our people, mi gente.”

As she embarks on new responsibilities within the organization, Yashira continues to be an inspiring force, driving positive change and opportunities for leaders of color in conservation.

About Us

Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

Contact Us