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Newly appointed director of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights reflects on ASU beginnings

ASU alumna Lisa Pino to be recognized as one of The College Leaders for 2021


Arizona State University alumna Lisa Pino will be recognized by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as one of The College Leaders for 2021.

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October 28, 2021

Arizona State University alumna Lisa Pino was born and raised in New York City — her mother a political refugee from Cuba and her father a political refugee from Spain. As a first-generation American and a first-generation college student, navigating her young adulthood and finding her identity was challenging at times. But Pino said that it was at Arizona State University that she was able to truly find herself.

“Figuring out how to formulate my own voice and find my own place at ASU and in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where most of my friends were international students, most of my professors were international or taught classes related to foreign languages and culture, it was almost like a microcosm of New York, but in a completely new terrain that helped me develop growth and find my confidence,” Pino said.

Pino earned three degrees from ASU — a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1996, a master’s degree in humanities in 1999 and a juris doctor in 2005. Using these degrees as her foundation, Pino has dedicated her career to addressing poverty and creating opportunities for low-income individuals from diverse backgrounds. 

She has spent much of her career in leadership positions at federal agencies. In 2009, she was appointed the deputy administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Program at the ​​U.S. Department of Agriculture by former President Barack Obama. Under Pino’s leadership, ​​SNAP had its highest growth period in history, serving 46 million Americans monthly.

In 2012, she became the USDA’s deputy assistant secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. After working at the USDA for over four years, Pino was then named the senior counselor to the secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Just last month, Pino was named the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR enforces federal civil rights, conscience and religious freedom laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules; the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act; and the Patient Safety Rule.

Prior to her work at the federal level, she worked in Arizona as a staff attorney for migrant farmworkers, an affordable housing advocate and a nonprofit leader.

For her professional accomplishments and community contributions, Pino will be recognized by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as one of The College Leaders for 2021. She shared more about her Sun Devil story and her career.

MORE: 4 outstanding ASU alumni honored as The College Leaders of 2021

Question: What initially interested you about your major?

Answer: I spent a significant amount of time selecting my major as I could not initially decide. I was torn between history and journalism, but ultimately landed on Spanish, which became a focus on Latin American and Spanish language, literature and history. My own self discovery as a Latina, first-generation American and the first college graduate in my family made me revisit what my background, family heritage and identity meant to me as a person and a student. The inspiring liberal arts curriculum at ASU and the open minds of varying backgrounds of my new global friends fostered my interest, fascination and focus on what being LatinxA gender-neutral or nonbinary term used to describe people who are of or relate to Latin American origin or descent. now meant to me, and how my personal background would shape my own education and career path.

Q: How did your programs in The College help prepare you for your career?

A: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offered classes and an environment where I truly felt comfortable and supported to pursue my own interests without being burdened by limited options. My graduate program in humanities encouraged me to choose my own focus, where I combined prior interests in the Latino community with media portrayals and discriminatory portrayals of immigrant communities. As a graduate student, I learned to juggle classwork, academic writing, part-time work ranging from teaching to research, and push my own academic boundaries with coursework that was ahead of its time. 

Q: What is your favorite part about your chosen career path?

A: ​​That my work naturally combines my own personal story, background and professional interests, and that I am one of a much broader movement contributing for good on behalf of communities. I remain continually challenged. It is never boring. The work remains increasingly complex. My work in law, public service and social justice is part of who I am, but this work is one that must be granted from one generation to the next, and I hope to keep mentoring and building the next generation of leaders.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: I think the next 10 years are a great opportunity to see what more I can do in terms of mentoring young people, students and recent grads. I've mentored many high school students, undergraduate students and aspiring law students throughout the years. So I think the next chapter in my own career is to see how I can harness my wisdom and experiences in a more strategic way to better serve the new generation of public servants and civil rights leaders.

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