White House Reception

USF’s Paul Dosal, Donna Parrino and Cesar Hernandez represent USF at Hispanic Heritage Month events.



By Barbara Melendez

     USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 6, 2011) – An invitation to the White House doesn’t come along every day. When one arrived for Vice Provost Paul Dosal, he didn’t hesitate to accept it. 


“This was my first time visiting the White House under any circumstances, so it was a special honor to visit it as an invited guest to a Hispanic Heritage celebration,” said Dosal. 


He was allowed to bring one guest and he chose Donna Parrino, his assistant and a colleague he has worked with for 16 years. It couldn’t have come along at a better time. She is retiring after 34 years of service to USF and this might just represent the perfect farewell gift.


“Our trip to Washington was awesome,” Parrino said. “I have visited the White House several times as a tourist but I had never been as a guest at an event.”


The event was a reception that took place in the East Room where a podium was set up for President Obama to address a crowd of approximately 140 people. 


Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Rep. Bruce Braley from Iowa, the Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin were on hand. Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, introduced President Obama.  “He made his remarks and then proceeded to greet the crowd up close. We were right along the rope so we got to shake hands.”  Cellphones served as cameras.


Even though Parrino is retiring, she will more than likely remain a dedicated supporter for USF if this event is any indication. She took the opportunity to tell President Obama that “he needs to come to the University of South Florida with our 50% minority enrollment.  And he said with a wide grin, ‘We’ll have to get it done.’”


She also ran into NPR correspondent Maria Hinojosa and reminded her of the time she was invited to speak at USF.  Hinojosa remembered USF and encouraged Parrino to stay in touch. 


“Maria shared that she will launch a new series for NPR soon and there might be opportunities for coverage of USF stories,” Parrino said.  “There are so many wonderful efforts going on here and especially where the Latino community is concerned, which would interest her.”


Dosal added, “Donna and I were both thrilled to be a part of this, as both of us have long promoted a better understanding of and appreciation for the Hispanic heritage of Tampa and the state of Florida.”


A White House invitation and hanging out in the nation’s capital are nothing new to some people, like former USF Student Government president Cesar Hernandez, completing his double major in biological and political science. He met President Obama last summer and was back in Washington, D.C. three weeks ago, invited to a reception hosted by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.


On his latest trip to Washington he also met with senior White House officials, including Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement Ronnie Cho, the White House’s liaison to young Americans. Hernandez is part of discussions about the next National Youth Summit which he hopes he can convince organizers to hold at USF. 


Hernandez also ran into fellow Hesselbein Global Academy alumni he traveled to Israel with this summer who are now working as White House interns as well as friends he had met in Dubai and another student government president he has gotten to know from George Washington University, John Richardson.


“The biggest message I left with was that they hope to keep this generation of young people engaged in government and really make this democracy work,” he said. “I’m hoping all of these relationships I’m building will ultimately benefit USF.”


Dosal, Parrino and Hernandez were participating in the Obama Administration’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month which runs through Oct. 15. Since Sept. 15, the President, the First Lady, the Vice President and the Second Lady, along with members of the Cabinet, Senior Administration officials and community partners have been participating in conferences, events, and online features showcasing the impact Hispanics have had on the nation.


Both Dosal and Parrino are experts on the state of higher education in the Hispanic community, especially in Florida. They were both instrumental in establishing and building efforts at USF which encourage and support first-generation Latinos and other low income, underrepresented students by helping them make a smooth and successful transition from high school to college and beyond.


Parrino was the USF President’s Office liaison to the President’s Latin Community Advisory Committee since 1988 where she oversaw the Latino Scholarship Program for its first 10 years.  In fact, she created its popular motto, “We Must Lift As We Climb.” In 2001 she became executive director of ENLACE, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded grant program which impacted over 62,000 K-12, community college and USF students and their parents. For four years Dosal directed the next phase of the Kellogg initiative, ENLACE Florida, that focused on policy and building the statewide Florida College Access Network CAN.


For information on Hispanic Heritage Month activities at USF, click here


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.