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Alejandra Ceja’s Passion and Pathway to Education

By Nilda Melissa Diaz.

Pathways, cliffs, and leaps describe Alejandra Ceja’s career journey. With a resumé spanning two decades in federal government under three different administrations, one under former President Barack Obama, the former Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, is currently the Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation. Assuming this role in June of 2017, she is responsible for leading the Foundation’s investments in educational equity. A role she finds exciting and rewarding.

“I am leading the investment portfolio for this foundation,” shares Ceja. “I am helping decide which community organizations should be part of our framework to make this work happen.”
The California native, with roots tracing back to Michoacán, Mexico was the first in her family to graduate from college and is a recipient of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy fellowship. The fellowship opportunity allowed her to travel to Washington D.C. and here is where a major interest on education sparked.

Curiosity and passion led her to want to learn more. She pursued opportunities and as a Latina student she asked herself, ‘How can I get a seat at the table?’
Ceja had seen in her life what effort, faith and preparation could lead to from her parents who came to the U.S. looking for the American Dream. Drawing inspiration from her parents, and leaders like Sylvia Méndez and Dolores Huerta, Ceja’s biggest leap came from her stint in the Class of 2005 at the National Hispana Leadership Institute fellowship where she reflected on her personal and professional journey.

Soon after, she realized she needed to make a change and decided to leave her federal government job to work on Capitol Hill. It was a life-changing decision that allowed her to pursue her biggest passion: being a student advocate.

Alejandra Ceja at the Department of Education, San Jose, CA, April 2014.

Alejandra with her mom Juana Ceja in Washington, D.C. October 7, 2015.

Today, Ceja advocates for students by providing education opportunities through the Panasonic Foundation, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to break the links between race, poverty, and educational outcomes by improving the academic and social success of all students.

Alejandra with Students 2 Science students, Newark, NJ, May 7, 2018.

“My passion is getting students to be successful from cradle to career,” she says. “We need to talk about the importance of early learning in our community. We need to talk about the importance of STEM access and, most importantly, we need to talk about the importance of college and career readiness. That’s what I’m bringing to the table.”

Since Ceja practices the philosophy of “cradle to career”, she believes partnerships with community organizations is the best way to put this into practice.
“We want to partner with organizations that are trying to change the game for students and giving them exposure and access to imagine the infinite possibilities that exist if you get an education,” says Ceja

And with that idea in mind, along with impacting their community, the Panasonic Foundation recently presented a $1.5 million grant to Students 2 Science Newark Technology Center in Newark, NJ. This is one of the many commitments Ceja and the Foundation have made to help students know their possibilities. This type of commitment is what drew Ceja to the Foundation.

Alejandra at The White House with former President Barack Obama. Washington, D.C., October 16, 2015.

Alejandra with former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2013.

For the past three decades, the Panasonic Foundation has been rooted in supporting equity and educational excellence for all students by investing in systemic change and capacity building. That work has yielded important returns. And, with new leadership at the Foundation, Ceja intends to do better by focusing the Foundation’s future investments on Literacy, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), and College and Career Readiness to help improve outcomes and increase opportunities for children – especially children from low-income backgrounds and from underrepresented communities to succeed in the global 21st century.

Alejandra with Joe Biden and Jill Biden at The White House in Washington, D.C. on September 15, 2015.

“Alejandra joined the company to further enhance Panasonic’s contribution to society and more specifically, through education, an initiative critical to the core of our business principles,” shares Megan Lee, Chief Human Resources Officer and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Initiatives at Panasonic Corporation of North America. “She has had great initial success within our local community and elsewhere.”

For Ceja, it is important to create pathways for students to have more access to internships and fellowships because they are the future engineers and scientists of the workforce. “I want for [students] to know that there is a place for them in our industry,” she shares.

Students 2 Science, Newark, NJ, May 7, 2018. Maurice Minott, a 10th grade student at Newark Public School’s Eagle Academy and the first intern of the new Students 2 Science Lab, is surrounded by Alejandra Ceja, Executive Director, Panasonic Foundation; Interim Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Robert Gregory, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, CEO of Panasonic North America Tom Gebhardt, Students 2 Science President and Co-Founder Paul Winslow and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Panasonic’s CEO presented a check for $1.5 million to mark the grand opening of the new Students 2 Science Newark Technology Center for Newark Public School students. It is the first STEM lab of its kind in Newark, NJ.

The Panasonic Foundation approach to their mission, education reform through the complete school system (teachers, parents, administration), is a perfect match for Ceja. Prior to this role, she was the Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education, where she was responsible for coordinating policy activities related to postsecondary education, career and technical education, adult education, and federal student aid.

Her previous professional experience includes serving as the Senior Budget and Appropriations Advisor for the House Congressional Committee on Education and Labor, where she worked on budget and education policy issues. She also helped draft legislation in support of reauthorizing the National and Community Service Act, resulting in the enactment of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
From 1999 to 2007, she was a Program Examiner for the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Motivated to do more for herself and the community, Ceja takes pride in her achievements and experiences. She received her M.P.A in public administration at Baruch College, City University of New York, and her B.A. in political science at Mount St. Mary’s University in California.
She is a board member of Child Trends, a graduate of the National Urban Fellows, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Presidential Management Fellowship program and a 2015 Marshall Memorial Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Alejandra’s parents Juana and Enrique Ceja in ­Washington, D.C. August 14, 1999.

Today, she credits her success not only to hard work, but to the unwavering support of her family and network.

“I’m pouring my heart and soul into this role and I’m just happy doing it,” she shares. “It’s hard work but it is fun and rewarding. It’s going to make a huge difference.”
And to those who are also trying to make a difference, Ceja encourages to “embrace the now and be prepared for all the doors that are going to open for you in the future.”

“Jump off that cliff and don’t look back,” she shares. “We deserve to be at the table, we deserve to feel that we belong, and not that we just fit in. I’m at a place where I know I have a seat at the table and I belong at the table. That is really powerful.”

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