Administrator Samantha Power’s at Florida International University MOU Signing

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For Immediate Release

Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Office of Press Relations
press@usaid.gov

Florida International University
March 22, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning and thanks to all of you for coming.  I'm really excited to be here to participate in our long awaited signing of the MOU between USAID and Florida International University, the largest Hispanic serving institution in the country with a student body of 58,000.  And I love the line that the President shared about the university - where excellence and social mobility converge to make a major difference in the world.  What could be better than that?  Thank you, Pierina, for the wonderful introduction and for the service you have already provided to USAID.  Already, as you've heard as an intern, Pierina has helped our Africa bureau educate children in conflict zones and combat violence against girls in school.  We cannot wait until you join our Foreign Service as FIU's first-ever Donald M. Payne International Development Graduate Fellow.  And you may be the first, but it is our job to ensure that you are by no means the last.  

I'd also like to thank President Jessell for his stewardship of this university.  Just the latest act of leadership from someone who has helped strengthen this school and helped fuel its extraordinary growth over the last decade.  I will say, Mr. President, that I have met a lot of university presidents in my day, and for some it is a job and for others it is a vocation.  And your love of this university is evidence and we talk about it in the way you seek to grow it and in, clearly, the respect above all that you have for the students on this campus.  So that love really is infectious and quite inspiring.  So thank you.  And finally, I'd like to recognize Florida International's Board of Trustees and senior leadership and especially the students who joined us here this morning and given us at USAID a tremendous show of Panther hospitality.  

I'm beyond thrilled to be in Miami today.  As the old saying goes, the only South American capital located in North America.  

If geography is destiny, Miami's destiny has been to serve as the gateway to the Americas, a launching point for tourism and trade routes, and trade that links the United States to its Latin American neighbors.  But Miami is much more than that, it is a gateway to America.  For generations of immigrants and exiles, people seeking refuge from acts of God, and acts of man, 

Miami has served as a port of culture.  And so too has this campus.  Miami's first and only public university.  Since Florida International was founded 50 years ago, it has opened its doors to students whose families were fleeing persecution, conflict, or natural disasters.  I was also struck to learn this morning that more than 50 percent of the student body will be Pell eligible -- eligible for Pell Grants.  That's a remarkable number and just indicative again of this commitment to social mobility.  I was also struck that those Pell eligible individuals graduate at higher rates than their better advantaged, let's say, counterparts.  And that's a really striking testament to their work and the resilience and perseverance of the students who come to this campus, but also the support that they get here.  

This place has and continues to be a cornerstone for first generation students who make up 25 percent of today's students, helping weave their stories into the American fabric, giving them the tools that they need to start careers, build businesses, run for office, and give back to their community.  The first Cuban-American elected to Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was a Panther.  She and I had some great battles, I will say.

I can tell the kind of skills that you're empowering people with, when you are arguing with somebody on issues, you really see those skills.  But she also was a tremendous champion in Congress for human rights, particularly human rights and welfare of people living in the Americas.  So too, of course, was the first Hispanic president of Texas A&M and one of this nation's leading agricultural scientists, Dr. Elsa Murano.  Richard Blanco, whose stirring poetry we all got to witness at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, received not one, but two degrees from Florida international.  All three of their families were exiles of Fidel Castro's Cuba.  And over the years, this campus has welcomed dozens more like them including many “Marielitos” who took harrowing journeys to America by sea.  They are joined by Venezuelans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Iranians, Russians, and the sons and daughters of dozens of other countries, all working toward a better future here at FIU.  

But Florida international's embrace has extended beyond those who study here, looking after those in need, both in its community and beyond.  After one of the strongest storms to ever hit Florida,  Hurricane Andrew, slammed into Miami and decimated this campus, this university came together to look after local residents delivering nearly over 150 tons of food, clothing, and supplies to those affected.  And after a devastating earthquake struck Port au Prince in 2010, the Panthers mobilized once again, raising money and organizing medical supplies and water for Haitians, something they did after last year's earthquake as well.  That legacy of concern continues today as Florida International has surrounded its Ukrainian students and staff, nearly 60 in total with resources, information, and support.  A reminder that they have a community looking out for them.  Just as this institution has extended a hand to others by welcoming them to this campus or sending support abroad, so to have you enriched the lives of those in need through your work with USAID.  

For nearly 40 years, USAID and FIU have partnered to harness the expertise that lives in these halls, using it to strengthen justice and prosperity overall.  In 1984, our partnership began with a small USAID grant asking FIU to conduct an assessment on justice system reform in Latin America.  From there, FIU did essential work in Colombia and Costa Rica, training judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, drafting legislation and regulations for groundbreaking reforms, and increasing access to courts in conflict areas.  In the years since, FIU has expanded its development.  Your faculty and researchers have mapped and studied earthquakes, storms, and floods in Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, helping thousands of communities assess risk and plan for future disasters.  Your faculty and researchers have partnered with the U.S. government's Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, which is called Feed the Future, to help reach millions of smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa with climate resilient seeds, including crop yields and boosting nutrition.  Your faculty and researchers have done work that played a role in increasing access to water and sanitation for millions of families in Burkina Faso and Ghana.  And in Ukraine, your faculty and researchers have recently provided training curriculum and materials to professors at Ukrainian universities to prepare students for careers, protecting critical infrastructure through cyber security.  Who had that idea?  Well thought through.  

Yet despite this school's history of welcoming others and despite our decades of partnership already, USAID has not served as a gateway to all.  Internship opportunities, career information, job fairs, research grants, recruitment efforts, all of these things exist USAID and have existed, but we've not been intentional enough in publicizing them on a typical short list of schools that already feed most of the foreign policy establishment.  As a result, students from minority serving institutions or students of color generally haven't had the opportunities to pursue careers in international development, even if they had the stirring of an interest at a young age.  That legacy shows up, unsurprisingly, in our current staffing levels.  Despite Hispanics making up 18 percent of the U.S. population, they make up less than 4 percent of our workforce.  And the numbers only get lower as you climb USAID's higher ranks.  

If we want USAID to offer the best of America, and Lord knows we need it, given the challenges we are facing on planet Earth, then we must recruit and retain staff that reflects America.  All of our diversity, all of our wisdom, all of our lived experiences.  The good news is, change is afoot.  Last fall, USAID held our first ever historically black college and university and Hispanic serving institutions conferences.  We welcomed as well, our largest cohort of foreign service officers in a decade.  Nearly half of them from historically underrepresented groups.  And thanks to the tireless work of one of the leaders of our global hunger efforts, Alexious Butler, who joins us here today, we have launched a new minority serving institution partnership effort, signing new agreements between USAID and minority serving institutions like Delaware State, Tuskegee University, and today, Florida International University.  

Under the new memorandum of understanding that I'm here to sign today, USAID will make a much more concerted effort to swing our doors open to all of you.  First, we will regularly connect with students to share job openings, research opportunities and internships to expose aspiring development professionals to our work.  We will develop new paid internship opportunities, starting with three new ones in USAID's, Latin America and Caribbean Regional Bureau.  We all know why internships need to be paid, because if they are not paid, that will mean that they are disparately available to people, depending on their backgrounds.  We will plan career fairs at FIU in South Florida and in D.C., showcasing the variety of skills and competencies we need to accomplish our mission.  Whether that be in agriculture, engineering, communications, economics, human resources, policy or public health.  And finally, we will gather a diverse pool of our current USAID experts to volunteer as mentors for students interested in beginning or learning more about careers in international development.  

And honestly, we need you.  We really do.  Our world is facing some of the most daunting challenges imaginable.  A pandemic that has already claimed millions of lives, a warming planet that is conjuring up ever more fierce storms, droughts and wildfires, and now a senseless war launched by Russia that has added millions to the already historic numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world.  

This is another Richard Blanco poem as affecting as his inaugural poem that I believe speaks powerfully to this moment.  And it's the closing line from his declaration of Interdependence.  "We are the promise of one people, one breath declaring to one another, I see you, I need you, I am you."  Amidst the many lessons we have learned and relearned while facing down COVID, climate change and now Russian aggression in the midst of its brutal campaign in Ukraine, it is how linked we all are, how inextricably linked we are, how interdependent our fates have become.  What all of you at FIU understand intimately, is that all of these crises, no matter where they originated have deep and lasting impacts on all people, including on Americans.  So I ask you if this campus has been a place of refuge for you, a place where you have been welcomed and inspired, please join us in demonstrating that same spirit of generosity and support to those in need around the world.  And just as this community has served as a gateway to so many interdependent souls, so too with today's agreement, we hope USAID will become a gateway for you.  Thank you so much.

Last updated: December 01, 2022

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