HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Wallace State Community College recognized Hispanic Heritage Month with events this week at both the main campus and at the Oneonta site.
Wallace State alums Juan Chavez, the first Latino deputy to work for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, and Dr. Paul J. Fontanez, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, current deputy director for Architecture Assessment with the Missile Defense Agency at the U.S. Department of Defense, and presently enrolled in the WSCC helicopter pilot training program, each presented to students, faculty and staff in Hanceville on Monday.
Chavez, an Oneonta native, became Blount County’s first Latino deputy in 2018 after initially assisting years earlier with the sheriff’s office as an integral translator during a murder case. Chavez graduated Wallace State with an engineering technology degree, but rapidly fell in love with the potential of a law enforcement career after aiding the case. He also works for the Oneonta Police Department.
“That incident changed my career path. I’m very thankful (Blount County) District Attorney Pamela Casey saw the potential in me and encouraged me to consider a career in law enforcement,” Chavez said. “My goal is to make a positive impact on my community, and that includes improving the language barrier between the Hispanic community and the law enforcement agencies. Strong communication builds trust between the two.”
Chavez’s career advancement has allowed him to work in multiple roles for the department. He ultimately wants to continue his progression and work as a federal agent for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Chavez, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from Faulkner University, encouraged Wallace State students to choose their friends wisely and to take advantage of opportunities on campus that will help forge their career paths.
“I’m a first-generation college student and didn’t have many family members to ask questions about college to when I was a student. I learned about the Success Coaches on campus at the time, and that helped me tremendously,” Chavez said.
Fontanez, who has earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, urged Wallace State students to never lose the willingness to learn new things.
“Learning never ends. The second you stop learning is the second you stop growing,” Fontanez said. “The pursuit of academic excellence in higher education is an aspect of my heritage that has not only shaped me but has also profoundly shaped my family.
“Don’t ever stop learning. Like a bulldog, grab it by the teeth and don’t let it go. Always seek to improve yourself.”
Fontanez earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York at Binghamton. He followed with a master’s degree in systems management from Capitol Technical University and a master’s in systems engineering from George Washington University. Fontanez also maintains a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy with an emphasis in Economic Development from George Mason University.
Fontanez said his heritage and his faith have shaped his educational pursuits and the dedication to be the best person he can be for his spouse, children, family and peers.
For Fontanez, the month-long celebration recognizes the Hispanic Americans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, state and communities. It highlights those individuals who have made advancements in science, technology, mathematics, business, arts and skilled trades, and acknowledges the rich culture that makes up the tapestry of the nation and Alabama.
“Those values aren’t unique to Hispanics. They should be a part of every American, regardless of creed, ethnicity or background. You must have those values—a moral compass and drive. That drive can’t be for selfish reasons. The drive needs to be for the purpose of serving others, serving your community, families and fellow man,” Fontanez said.
While working for the Missile Defense Agency, Fontanez is pursuing his flight credentials at Wallace State with hopes of using those skills to fly overseas for missionary work.
Wallace State’s Culinary Arts program served scallop ceviche to those in attendance on Monday and introduced a Hispanic Heritage-themed menu for its weekly Wednesday lunches served on campus. The current menu choices will be served each Wednesday for three weeks and include vegetarian grilled sweet potato and spicy slaw, posole, verde carintas and el complaciante del multitude.
At the Oneonta site on Tuesday night, Wallace State hosted an Open House at the Technical Center and a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration. La Jefa 98.3 FM conducted a remote broadcast for the event.
The popular Chinito’s taco truck made stops at both campuses.
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15 each year to recognize the countless contributions of more than 60 million Hispanic Americans to our culture and society. Hispanic Americans are the largest minority group in the United States today, and generations of Hispanic Americans have consistently helped make our country strong and prosperous.
“Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope” is the theme for 2021. It invites everyone to celebrate Hispanic Heritage and to reflect on how great tomorrow can be if we hold onto our resilience and hope. It also encourages us to reflect on all the contributions Hispanics have made in the past and will continue to make in the future.
For more information about Hispanic Heritage Month, visit https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/