Cynthia K. Orellana’s professional trajectory is reflective of her passion and commitment for inclusive and collaborative practices, bridging the opportunity divide, and driving systems change.
As the Director of P-16 Policy and Collaborative Initiatives at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE), and a senior member of the Academic Affairs Division, Cynthia leads strategic policy projects in support of advancing the Department’s goals for achieving national leadership in college participation. This involves various leadership roles in the development and implementation of policies and initiatives that increase college readiness and college going rates of the Commonwealth’s students, particularly first-generation to college, low-income and under-represented students. It also includes managing a $1.5million federal college access grant program, and supporting other state funded grant programs. Cynthia represent’s the DHE with external cross-sector groups within the Commonwealth and nationally such as the America Diploma Project. She collaborates and engages with multiple sectors (K-12 systems, DHE’s business and community partners) on initiatives to increase student college access and participation, and closing the achievement gap. In May 2014, she was awarded a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Performance Recognition Program citation for “Exceptional Managerial, Organizational, and/or Communications Achievements.”
Prior to joining DHE, Cynthia served as Director of the Commonwealth Corps in the Office of Governor Deval Patrick, where she promoted civic engagement through grassroots governance projects as well as managed the Governor’s cornerstone civic engagement initiative – The Commonwealth Corps. Cynthia’s professional experiences include community organizing and advocacy, community development, politics and campaigns, governance, social policy, and development of startup initiatives.
Cynthia is a Founding Board Member of Chica Project, a movement to grow the number of Latina leaders in Massachusetts and highlight their capacities and strengths to lead and contribute to the world. The vision of Chica Project is to create a pipeline of inter-generational Latina leaders connected through mentoring, leadership development and community empowerment activities; while also impacting individual development at various points along the professional and personal journey of participants. Cynthia has been at the forefront of the organization’s strategic planning and organizational development work.
Her community involvement and volunteering endeavors have included voter registration and civic engagement projects that build awareness of Latino community issues in the U.S., as well as developing solidarity, networks and linkages with communities abroad.
Cynthia has been an avid dancer for nearly 18 years. This includes 9 years as a performer, choreographer and teacher in modern/theater dance and Latin dance styles. Her later years as a professional salsa dancer afforded her the opportunity to perform in cities across the U.S. and abroad, including Switzerland, Holland, England, Canada and Bermuda.
Cynthia is a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts and the youngest of four children. She is the first generation born in the United States and first in her family to attend college. She holds a M.A. in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University and a B.S. in Political Science from Northeastern University.