When the pandemic shut down on-campus classes at FIU on March 11, 2020, the president of the FIU chapter of ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals For America), Maria Jose Pineda, looked despairingly at a packed schedule of in-person events, all canceled. But in the space of a few weeks, the ALPFA chapter board recouped, and it was up and running again on Zoom.
On April 17, 2020, it presented an event featuring American Airlines that drew not only participants from FIU, but members from other collegiate and professional ALPFA chapters, all grateful to for the opportunity to connect and build camaraderie during the lockdown.
The chapter’s vigorous engagement during the pandemic was among the achievements that stood out to national ALPFA judging committees. At the organization’s national conference, held virtually on August 5-7, 2020, ALPFA FIU was named National Chapter of the Year, making FIU the first chapter to repeat as national winners in the four years the award has been bestowed.
On top of that, Pineda, a senior majoring in accounting and business analytics, was named 2020 Daniel Zamora National Student of the Year, the award named for the FIU accounting student and ALPFA president who died shortly before he was to receive his Master of Accounting degree in 2012. It was the first time an FIU student received the award since it was named for Zamora, who won the national honor in 2009.
For chapter advisor Tessie Brunken, clinical assistant professor of accounting and ALPFA FIU faculty advisor, who worked closely with both Zamora and Pineda, the double win marked a special moment that acknowledged the strength of the organization’s leadership and its high-achieving year.
“A lot of chapters had issues when everything went remote,” she said. “Our students said, ‘let’s do this. Let’s get to work.’ That’s an indicator they were really committed to moving the chapter forward. Maria’s leadership and willingness to engage with other chapters really stood out.”
The chapter’s first pandemic-era meetings were challenging as members learned how to manage Zoom, Pineda said, “and then everything started to fall into place. Firms started reaching out, telling us that they couldn’t come to Miami, but they still wanted to present to our ALPFA members.”
One of the biggest successes was turning the chapter’s in-person Women of ALPFA event, featuring high-level Latina leaders, into a virtual panel with nearly 100 attendees. As FIU reached out to other chapters, ALPFA members from throughout the U.S. joined the Zoom calls.
“We took this crisis and turned it into an opportunity to grow and connect with more people,” she said.
Online meetings will continue in the fall, Pineda said, and when FIU starts to allows in-person meetings once again, ALPFA will continue to make their seminars available virtually so that FIU students and their peers at other schools can connect, even when they can’t come to campus.
“We call ourselves the ALPFAmilia,” she said, a play on the organization’s name. “We are here to create connections. That’s the most important thing.”
ALPFA was the first national Latino professional association in the United States, established in Los Angeles in 1972. Its mission is to empower and develop Latino men and women as leaders of character for the nation, in every sector of the global economy.