San Diego, CA,
11:40 AM

Leading Latinas

Mentorship program inspires young women.

Karina Kangas’ parents didn’t go to college. Neither did her grandparents.

She had always done well in school, so her academic performance would not be what prevented her from being a first-generation college student. Rather, Karina’s hurdles would be finding help to fund her education, getting placed in the best school possible while balancing being a young wife and mother.

Then came what Karina describes as a “random email” one day while an undergraduate student at San Diego State University. It was an informational message from MANA de San Diego, a Latina leadership program in Karina’s hometown. MANA awards $40,000 to $50,000 annually in financial support to students seeking an associate’s degree through doctoral candidates.

“I decided to apply,” Karina says. “I initially submitted my application in hopes of getting funding help for college. It was the only scholarship application I submitted that required an in-person interview. And from that first interview, I felt an immediate connection with MANA de San Diego.”

The bond formed in that interview continued to grow. Karina began attending events the organization sponsored, volunteered and networked with other professionals and companies that support MANA de San Diego.

Karina, 28, was one of the first women to go through MANA de San Diego’s Latina Success Leadership Program of which State Farm® is a supporter. Karina went graduate school 2,300 miles away at the University of Michigan where she earned a master’s of science in chemistry.

Upon her return home to San Diego, Karina was hired as a scientist at General Atomics. She is the only Latina on her team. Karina credits MANA with giving her the confidence to pursue college, and more uniquely, a male-dominated career.

Rosa María Hernández is director of development and member services at MANA. She came to work for the organization after 10 years in academia and after going through the MANA volunteer-based program herself.

“It’s been great to see how it’s evolved and how it’s impacted so many in such positive ways as it has Karina,” says Rosa. “It gives them the tools, advocacy and strength for them to rise up and the strength to take a chance.”

Karina’s quick success in the company and leadership skills she honed through MANA led to a promotion of two levels. She still calls her mentor once a week.

“I was surrounded by strong, successful women mentors through MANA,” says Karina. “It was real leadership training, and I knew if they could be successful, I could, too.”

And, of course, Karina’s family beams with pride in her accomplishments.

“They are proud and see me as successful,” says Karina. “And there is so much more that I want to do to continue to succeed. That’s why my MANA connections are still so important; they keep shooting for my goals and where I want to be.”

Says Rosa, “I describe MANA as an organization that creates cyclical change. Once you train and encourage one person in the family, you can change the whole family. Karina is a great example of that.”