A 30-Year Legacy, a Bright Future: Vanguard’s Partnership with the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute at George Washington University

UPDATED – April 26, 2017:

PR Week featured an op-ed by Vanguard’s Maria Rodriguez outlining why she thinks internships should be accessible and affordable to all students, and how this approach can increase diversity in the PR industry. Read the article here.


Over the last 30 years, I have borne witness to the power communications has in changing lives. It educates, informs and alters the way people see the world around them and feel about the people in it.  It can lift voices that are traditionally unheard and raise issues, long neglected, front and center.

Communications is a true equalizer, and I am so proud to have made it my career.

I co-founded Vanguard Communications in 1987 with one of my first mentors because at the time, there were no agencies that focused solely on social issues that I cared about, like women’s health, the environment, equity issues and food safety. Today, Vanguard continues to honor that mission in our work with public and nonprofit sector clients.

Maria Rodriguez, President and CEO, at Vanguard’s first big event, Earth Day 1990.


Ironically, communications was not something I had planned to pursue. As an undergraduate at The George Washington University (GW), and as a first-generation Latina, I planned to be an accountant. It was a chance encounter with someone who told me I would be good in communications that steered me on a different career path. Clearly it was good advice, as Vanguard celebrates its 30th year today!

It was this inflection point that got me thinking about my journey. After 30 years, how could I give back to the industry that fostered my passion and gave me the capacity and skills to make the world a better place? What small part could my colleagues and I play to ensure diversity in our field and open the door for others looking to make a difference? What meaningful way could we mark three decades of social marketing and communications at Vanguard?

Like most of my life’s most profound moments, I came full circle to GW and the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute (the Institute). Founded in 2015, the Institute provides qualified students with the support needed to excel in their academic careers and in the workforce, while increasing diversity in leadership positions.

Latino students, particularly first-generation students, face unique barriers when they go to college. Many are far away from home for the first time, and how to pay for things like tuition, board, food and transportation are constant worries. To help ease this financial burden, students take on part-time jobs. Unpaid internships are rarely an option in these scenarios.

After running a business for 30 years, I can tell you that an internship gives a job candidate who otherwise has no work experience a significant leg up in the hiring process, particularly in PR and marketing. In Washington, D.C., that experience is highly coveted given the direct exposure to policy making and cause campaigns championed by national organizations and nonprofits.

So today, I am proud to announce that we are closing that gap through a partnership between Vanguard and the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute. Together, we will fund an internship program called Comunicadores for the Future. Under the program, participants will be placed with local nonprofits, receive housing and mentorship and participate in sessions highlighting best PR practices and general leadership skills. This investment is not just one of dollars and cents; it is an investment in hope for a future of inclusion that reflects the growing diversity in this country and the critical role diverse voices play in our profession.

As we celebrate and reflect on the Vanguard legacy, we also look forward to a new generation of Latino communicators.

For more program information, please read our English and Spanish press releases.