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An advocate for inclusion Cecilia Orellana-Rojas, '86, lends her expertise to organizations around the country as a senior vice president with the National Diversity Council.

Cecilia Orellana-Rojas, ’86, helped AT&T establish itself as a national leader in diversity and inclusion and now lends her expertise to organizations around the country as a senior vice president with the National Diversity Council based in Texas.

As a teenager growing up in her native Chile, Cecilia wanted to study journalism, but it was discouraged under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. After studying English translation for one year at the Universidad de Concepción, she received an Institute of International Education scholarship to attend college in the U.S.

She had her pick of several schools; she chose UND. Why? Because during high school, she spent a year as an exchange student on a farm near Montevideo, Minnesota, and felt comfortable coming to the Upper Midwest for college. It’s a decision she’s never regretted.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had, because that was actually the time when I was fully exposed to people from all over the world,” Orellana-Rojas said. “I met so many wonderful people that I’m still in contact with today. UND gave me the opportunity to develop my academic and social skills while preparing me for the world of work.”

Cecilia developed an interest in the American Indian experience while at UND that made her think much more deeply about the racism faced by indigenous groups in Chile. It would become the focus of her “eclectic” academic career.

First, however, she earned a degree in journalism from UND and spent nearly a year interning with the Grand Forks Herald as a reporter. As a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, she conducted research on Chile’s Mapuche Indians while earning a master’s degree in Latin American Studies. She would continue that research as a sociology doctoral student at the University of Texas-Austin.

After several years of teaching at Fort Lewis College in Colorado and gaining an interest in multiculturalism, Cecilia decided she should get some practical experience to go with classroom theory. She took a job with AT&T in diversity marketing with the thought she’d go back to the classroom after three years. Instead, she spent 15 years helping the giant corporation become known for its diversity and inclusion (D and I) initiatives.

“It was tremendous,” said Orellana-Rojas. “It was such an honor to be a part of that and build the reputation in that brand. There was total support with the leadership of AT&T for diversity and inclusion.”

During her time with the company, she helped hit benchmarks that put AT&T at the top of DiversityInc magazine’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. AT&T has since been named to the magazine’s Hall of Fame for its D and I efforts.

In 2013, Cecilia decided to reinvent herself again. Seeing the opportunity to have an even greater impact, she joined the National Diversity Council, a nonprofit that works to advance D and I as a dynamic strategy for business success and community well-being.

Cecilia says large corporations have always been at the forefront of the Diversity and Inclusion movement, but she’s excited to see midsized companies and higher education campuses embrace the benefits of D and I by working with the National Diversity Council.

“I feel I’m very lucky to be able to contribute to this country that has given me so much.” ///

— by Milo Smith

Cecilia Orellana-Rojas lends her expertise to organizations around the country as a senior vice president with the National Diversity Council.