By Philip Walzer

Giovanna Genard, assistant vice president for strategic communication and marketing at Old Dominion University, and Cpl. Juvenal "Juve" Valdez, Hispanic community liaison officer for the Norfolk Police Department, received the inaugural Excelencia Latina awards from ODU's Hispanic & Latino Employee Association (HLEA) on May 5.

The association was established in 2010 by faculty and staff members to enhance the advancement of ODU's Hispanic and Latinx students and staff. The awards were created to "shine a spotlight on the critical work done by our ODU employees and community partners in advancing this broader cause," said Alan Meca, president of the HLEA and assistant professor of psychology.

Genard has forged several collaborations linking ODU to the Latinx community.

In 2019, she founded the High Achieving Latinxs in Engineering & Sciences (HALES) summer program. Last summer, she helped launch the Remote Experience for Young Engineers and Scientists, or REYES, a virtual approach to outreach during the pandemic. A free series of lectures and discussions, REYES drew about 7,400 participants from 115 countries, including about 3,000 from Latin America. In December, Genard invited Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut in space, to participate in REYES.

Genard has built partnerships with Latin American embassies, resulting in a virtual visit to ODU from Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States, Dr. Fernando Llorca Castro. She is also Old Dominion's liaison with the physics department at the University of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortium and the Ibero-American Physics Olympiad.

Since 2020, Genard has been a member of the board of directors of YWCA South Hampton Roads, which aims to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace and justice.

"I have witnessed the positive impact and ripple effect our work - no matter how small or insignificant we may think it is - can have on opening access for Latinos and other underrepresented minorities," Genard said. "I know that together we will open even more doors by leading inclusively and continuing to serve our communities."

Valdez has been with the Norfolk Police Department for 17 years and was recently named its first Hispanic community liaison officer. He has served in several units, including vice and narcotics, and crime prevention.

Valdez has strengthened relationships with the community in a variety of ways.

He has appeared on local Hispanic radio stations, mentored and tutored English as a second language students in Norfolk Public Schools and created the first Hispanic Citizens Police Academy in 2019. Valdez also organized a soccer league mixing officers and community members. He was honored last year by the national Anti-Defamation League.

Valdez endorsed HLEA's mission, including encouraging networking and strengthening communication with other groups. "I hope we continue to work together in the future to do bigger things with the community," he said.

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