Alumni Spotlight: Nilbia Coyote (MPA 2011)

Nilbia Coyote

Where do you work? Describe your current job.

I’m the Executive Director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), a non profit community-based organization in Jackson Heights, Queens dedicated to inspiring, organizing, and empowering immigrant workers from all over the City. My position is to show leadership every day and to ensure that the organization is run well! My role is to honor that our unionized staff is treated with equity and have the worker rights we fight for; to include the voices of our members and staff in the decisions we make for the future; to oversee my team in charge of implementing our program and that we meet goals, deliverables and milestones, among many others. Of course, I’m in charge of guaranteeing the sustainability of the organization and making sure that we achieve our mission which is to organize immigrant workers' individual and collective social, economic, and political power to seek justice in life and at work. 

Our innovative approach combines a robust workforce development program, to build professional careers with empowering training & government certifications, with life-supportive services. NICE has been empowering immigrant workers and their families for almost 25 years now regardless of their immigration status. 

We have evolved over the years, transforming from a small yet powerful grassroot organization, to a medium size group of 30 employees, and I am certain that the next years will be essential for NICE to become an even stronger organization. The last years tested us to our core, including the devastating times of the Pandemic; the economic and social implications of living in the epicenter of the crisis; and more recently, the massive arrivals of asylum seekers to NYC in the last two years. 

I have had the privilege to lead NICE as the ED -and as a new mom- since July 2022 in the midst of an “immigration crisis” of asylum seekers, in which NICE has welcomed over 1000 new immigrants per month for over a year.

Why did you choose the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service? 

I was grateful by the amount of work in nonprofit management that Wagner was leading compared to the rest of grad schools in the country. Before migrating to the US, I worked for five years in the public sector, but from the government front, and I was sure I wanted to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector. I didn't know back then that I would have so many opportunities that were already in my “path” when I was graduating from Wagner. 

What was your favorite class? 

I think it was called International Development I and II with Professors Natasha Iskander and John Gershman. Both were extremely relevant classes for me since they sparked my fierce and unapologetic passion for immigration. I also had the incredible opportunity to work as a research assistant for Prof. Iskander, which was seminal for my career in immigration, as well as my Capstone Project. 

What skills did you develop at Wagner were most helpful? 

I think that living in NYC while being a grad student is in itself a great skill! Wagner allowed me to hone my skills in networking, taking the time to talk to the people you want to meet, believing in peer connection (and its power), and mostly, the use of intersectionality lens that helps me everyday in my decision-making process. Even though my prior professional experience was not in the sector of “immigration” per se, I learnt at grad-school that all my skills, knowledge, abilities, etc were transferable from one job to the other. 

What about your Wagner experience was helpful in your career? 

Thanks to my capstone project, I met my first employer in NYC (the Mexican Consulate). Beyond this, Wagner was very helpful for my career and my life at many levels. As an immigrant myself in NYC, I was activated after realizing how invisible and exploited hundreds of Mexican undocumented immigrants living and working in the City were. Wagner gave me the opportunity to start contributing to tackle many injustices against immigrant workers. My capstone project was key to strengthening my skills in communicating with immigrant workers and proposing programs that would provide empowering opportunities. During the years of grad school, I also became knowledgeable in local, national and international issues regarding immigration by being involved in many research projects and/or events organized by students. 

How did you determine your path?

New York City, where I witnessed the exploitation of low-wage workers, inspired and activated me to be involved and engaged with organizing and empowering immigrant workers. As an immigrant myself, I decided many years ago that this would be my path to fight for dignity and justice for all, the best that I can. Today I think that the future of work is immigrant workers visibly leading the movement and there is not a better place in the world to make this happen but in the City where all started.