Alumna and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis has returned to Cal Poly Pomona to serve as a scholar-in-residence starting Nov. 18.
“This is a rare opportunity to have someone with Hilda’s long record of experience in public service come and be part of our learning community,” Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz said. “That she is one of our alumnae makes it all the more sweeter. We are delighted to have her join us.”
Solis, who became the first Latina to hold a cabinet-level position in federal government and to be elected to the California State Senate, brings to the campus her uncommonly wide range of experience and knowledge about public service, government operations, and public policy.
“I thank President Ortiz for this great opportunity to return to my alma mater. I look forward to being a part of this great institution, and engaging with both the faculty and students in meaningful discussions about public policy and many other important issues,” Solis said.
As a scholar-in-residence, Solis will consult with faculty and mentor students in the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences (CLASS), and make presentations that benefit the campus and the communities Cal Poly Pomona serves. Her position is funded by an endowment set up for special opportunities like this, the Hugh O. La Bounty Endowed Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge.
“We are thrilled that she will be joining us and look forward to the expertise she will bring to our learn-by-doing tradition,” CLASS Dean Sharon Hilles said. “This is a marvelous opportunity for the students, faculty and university.”
A daughter of immigrants who were involved in labor unions, Solis grew up in La Puente. She was the first in her family to attend college, enrolling in Cal Poly Pomona. On campus, she worked as a student assistant recruiter in the Educational Opportunity Program and a summer orientation leader.
Solis graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cal Poly Pomona in 1979. Two years later, she earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California. She worked in the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs under President Jimmy Carter and later served as a management analyst in Office of Management & Budget’s Civil Rights Division.
Her political career began when she was elected to the Rio Hondo Community College District Board of Trustees in 1985. Solis served there until she was elected to the California State Assembly in 1992, representing the San Gabriel Valley. Just two years after that, she became the first Latina elected to the California State Senate.
In the legislature, Solis supported raising the minimum wage by referendum and authored 17 laws against domestic violence. She backed a bill to enforce a court ruling that undocumented immigrants could attend college if they had established California residency. Solis also served on committees that dealt with higher education, environmental safety, labor and groundwater contamination and landfill leakage.
In 2000, she became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for getting a California law passed that established environmental protections for minority communities. Solis argued that polluting projects were disproportionately located near minority and low-income neighborhoods.
That same year, she defeated an 18-year incumbent in the Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District seat. In Congress, Solis made labor, immigration and the environment her key issues, backing legislation to train workers for green jobs.
In December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama nominated Solis as the next secretary of labor. The U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment in February 2009, making Solis the first Latina to serve in a cabinet-level position. As secretary, Solis strengthened enforcement of workplace safety rules, hiring additional inspectors for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and penalizing employers for violations. She also touted the creation of 5.8 million private sector jobs during her tenure.
Solis announced her resignation as labor secretary on Jan. 9, 2013, saying she wanted to return to Southern California and spend more time with her elderly mother.