Latoya Speller was born in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx in New York City. She attended Elementary school at PS 49, Elijah D Clark JHS 149 and went to high school at Grace Dodge. However, she was unable to complete high school due to circumstances beyond her control. She left school and would later peruse her General Education Diploma (GED). Latoya’s mother died when she was two years old and she was raised by her aunt and her grandmother in a household with a large extended family. When she was a child, Latoya used to travel to clinics and hospitals with her grandmother a lot, because of her grandmother’s illnesses: multiple sclerosis and diabetes. It was through these hospital and clinic visits that she came to realize that she wanted to work in the medical field and to help others.
Latoya became a mother at a young age, to both of her children: Zyaira and Janiya. She learned that in order to raise a family she had to find employment to support them. This is when she re-focused, left school and the pursuit of her personal goals to work on supporting her family’s needs. Latoya focused on being a great provider to the family she loved. After working for nine years as a clerical aide in the City of New York Division of Human Resources Administration, she lost her job. That was when Latoya had to make a critical decision to pursue the opportunity that she had always dreamed of; which was to get her college education and work diligently towards a career in the medical field. In the fall of 2010, Latoya enrolled in Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College to pursue an A.A.S degree in Nursing. Upon entering Hostos in the fall of 2010, she was a part of the College Discovery program, which helped to lay the foundation for Latoya’s college experience and to learn the necessary steps to take to have a positive and successful college career.
Since enrolling in Hostos, Latoya has focused on what she wants out of life for herself and for her children and has posed the question to herself at each stage of her college career as to why she is here in school. This has helped Latoya to accomplish a great many things. Through her first two semesters in college, Latoya was an honors student and received certificates for academic excellence. In the spring of 2010, Latoya’s mentor, Prof. Carmen Alustiza-Mondesire recommended that she apply to become a member of the Hostos Student Leadership Academy. Latoya applied, interviewed and was accepted into the Hostos Student Ambassador Program. As a member of the Academy, Latoya has found a way to give back to her community, in the South Bronx, where she grew up and the communities of Hostos Community College and the City University of New York.
Latoya has always wanted to give back to society and the Academy was her chance to do that. Latoya has volunteered restoring neighborhood parks and community parks, painting murals in low-income sections of the City: in schools and in restored neighborhoods. She has volunteered with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Holiday Party in Brooklyn, New York working with children. She has assisted with registering students, been a participant at new student orientations, provided campus tours and helped the Student Government Association with their efforts and events too. Latoya has also volunteered at POTS Soup Kitchen, feeding the hungry. She has helped with the annual Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Celebration at Queens College in support of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities. Latoya was also a participant in the second annual Hostos Athletic Leaders Organization Retreat in New Jersey.
Her experiences as a member of the Academy and at Hostos have given Latoya a new perspective on life and a new path to follow. Latoya’s volunteer experiences have led her to have a deeper understanding of what she truly has a passion for, which is caring for the elderly. Through her volunteer efforts, Latoya has been introduced to special needs individuals, like her grandmother, who need specialized care and thus she has devoted herself to that cause by switching her major from Nursing to Gerontology. Latoya will continue on this path so that she can obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work. She plans to attend Hunter College after she graduates from Hostos to get her MSW. Her long-term goal is to study and to become a Geriatric Social Worker. She says that, “Life has given me another opportunity to fulfill my dreams and I am going to take it.”
Latoya has had the experience of attending the CUNY Dynamic Women in Leadership Conference, the Millennium Campus Conference at Harvard University, the LaGuardia Community College Leadership Conference and the CUNY Women’s Leadership Conference at Hunter College. She has also been a representative at the CUNY Board of Trustees Hearing and a Hearing by the City Council Higher Education Commission. Latoya is the recipient of the 2011 Kwanzaa Celebration Scholarship, the 2011 Bronx CUNY Scholarship, the Don Elio Community Service Award and the Eddie and Carlos Gonzalez Community Service Award. Due to her tremendous efforts as a member of the Student Leadership Academy, Latoya has become a part of the CUNY Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy’s CUNY Corps program. She is one of only four student representatives from Hostos Community College that serve, providing service to communities all across the City and the State as representatives of the City University of New York.