June 9, 2000
Basking Ridge, NJ Armed with corporate know-how, an unrelenting drive and a passion for education, Sara Martinez Tucker is resolved to double the rate of Latinos earning college degrees by 2006. This crusade is part of her mission as president and CEO of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF). It is also a goal inspired by her parents' deep-rooted value for education.
Although Tucker's parents never attended college, they value education and raised their three children to pursue their education above anything else. Tucker emotionally talks about the day her brother graduated from college at 37 years of age. "My brother went through life remembering that the only thing our father ever asked of us was that all his children graduate from college," she said. "I thank God that we ended up with parents who even if they didn't have the means, always had it in them to be very resourceful."
A native of Laredo, Texas, Tucker earned an undergraduate degree in journalism, graduating with honors from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1979, she received a master's of business administration from the same institution. Because Tucker grew up in Southern Texas in a working class family, she can relate to the scholarship recipients she now helps. She knows what the lack of education can do and knows what it takes to get students to aspire to a successful future. As she works to gain corporate support for education, she also strives to teach parents the importance of encouraging their children to pursue higher education.
Tucker, 45, now heads HSF, the nation's premier Hispanic scholarship fund, where she is actively involved in launching new programs to attract more Hispanic students to college, and increase their retention at colleges and universities nationwide. Prior to joining HSF, Tucker held senior positions at AT&T, including management assignments in sales, customer service and human resources. In 1990, her hard work and determination made her the first Hispanic female to reach executive level at AT&T.
"I am very grateful to AT&T for taking someone without much experience, and gave her the opportunity to learn and grow in a business setting," she said. "AT&T gave me sales experience that helped me understand not only how you build a business plan, but also how you fund it. They were very patient in training me to do what I hope to be able to do for a very long time."
Tucker's drive to create a better future for Latino youth goes beyond paving the way to a college campus or generating corporate sponsorships. She strives on measuring success and showing corporate investors the tangible results their donations accomplish by tracking the recipients and reporting their progress.
"It gives me great pleasure to know that 64% of our scholars are doing volunteer work in their community," she said. "That makes me feel that everyone that we touch is going to touch maybe 10 or 15 other lives."
Given her challenging task of doubling the number of Hispanics earning a college degree, from nine to 18%, she is actively involved in launching new programs to attract more Hispanic students to college. "The only way to have a firm grasp on your destiny is through education," said Tucker. "I want to help give every Latino child a chance to create their own destiny."
Tucker also has the uplifting task of working with institutions that, like her family, value educating Latino youth. Among her success stories is earning a $50 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. "I was so nervous at the meeting that I forgot to include the budget page on the proposal," she recalled. Tucker remembers having two budgets in her briefcase, one for $25 million and another for $50 million, and facing the dilemma of having to choose one to present. After thinking about her students and what they would have wanted her to do, she presented the $50 million budget. "I thought maybe they would give me $10 million or maybe $20 million, because I figured they wouldn't give me the full amount. When I learned I was getting the full amount, I started sobbing and couldn't talk."
This heartening accomplishment was followed by another milestone. A week after the Lilly Endowment grant was announced, Tucker was in negotiations with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. HSF is now a participant in the $1 billion Gates Millennium Scholars Program.
When asked to describe Tuckers' accomplishments, her colleagues applaud the corporate know-how she brings to the nonprofit world. "She took HSF from an organization with a budget of four to five million and grew it 15 times its size," said Jesus Rangel, Vice President of American Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc. As chairman of the HSF board, Rangel has worked closely with Tucker for the past six years. "The corporate experience she had at AT&T allows her to solve problems and bring solutions in education in a more orderly and thoughtful manner," he said.
"It was a relatively small organization until Sara became its chairman an CEO," said Paul Ostergard, an HSF board member and President and CEO of Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy. Thanks to Tucker's efforts, he said, HSF has grown annual scholarships from $3 million to $26 million dollars.
Tucker's accomplishments in the corporate arena and education have not gone unnoticed. She was awarded the 1998 HISPANIC Magazine's Heritage Achievement Award for education. In 1999, she was included in Hispanic Business Magazine's 100 Most Influential Hispanics for the third consecutive year. Later this month, the University of Texas at Austin will honor her as an "Outstanding Young Texas EX."
Ask Tucker to talk about Latinos and education and she'll be quick to sound off daunting statistics and engage you in her struggle. Ask her to share her frustrations and she'll be candid to name two: "My personal frustration is that I feel like I'm not getting enough done," she said. "My frustration outside my community is with people who view us as less than, as a problem as opposed to an opportunity."
Regardless of the challenges or frustrations, Tuckers' heart is always set in changing the world one student at a time.