Making The Connection
As the plane descended for landing, 6-year-old Juanita Velez (M.I.B. ’13) drank in Atlanta’s vast, illuminated night sky. It was so different from the one above Medellín, Colombia, the city she and her parents had left behind.
Perhaps it had something to do with the flaming cauldron ablaze in the midst of Atlanta’s fluorescent and neon glow. It was July 19, 1996, the night of the opening ceremony for the Centennial Olympic Games. As the city welcomed thousands of athletes, millions of visitors and television viewers, it also welcomed Velez and her parents to a new life in the U.S.
“In Colombia, my parents were professionals, but as immigrants, they had to drop their professions at the airport,” said Velez. “I saw firsthand how difficult it can be to live in a new country without any family or social or professional networks, and their sacrifice has fueled my motivation to succeed.”
Now the manager of international social media strategy for Delta Air Lines, she works with local teams across the globe to ensure the company effectively serves its customers through the social media channels they prefer and in the language they speak.
It’s a career path driven by her personal passions for connecting people across cultures to enterprise, opportunity and community.
“Social media is very different in every country,” said Velez. “For example, throughout Asia, people use social media to live every component of their lives — from paying rent to purchasing tickets to posting their pictures. One thing about it stays the same, though, no matter where you are: its power to bring people together, just like Delta does.”
After working for several years on international marketing strategy for UPS, Velez was tabbed by Delta to develop the company’s first international social media strategy. To date, Velez has led initiatives to use social media to build the company’s brand across the globe and in 10 different languages.
“At Delta, I get to work in an international, creative and entrepreneurial capacity for a company that is intentional about diversity, inclusion, global commercialization and authenticity,” said Velez. “My job requires me to move quickly and adapt while giving me an opportunity to exercise my entrepreneurial muscles.”
Velez discovered a love for entrepreneurship when she co-founded a dental equipment exporting company shortly after graduating from college. Her experience as a Latina entrepreneur led her to pursue a career working with people in international markets. It also motivated her to apply for Georgia State’s master of international business degree program.
In 2016, Velez founded a division of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce called HYPE (Hispanic Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs), which focuses on empowering Georgia’s future business leaders.
“At HYPE, we’re providing multicultural, next-generation leaders with much-needed access to professional and community spaces, inviting them to tables they’ve never sat at before, and bringing our Atlanta and Georgia communities together for a common cause,” she said.
It’s been 23 years since Atlanta welcomed Velez and her family to their new home. Her accomplishments in that time — entrepreneur, industry star, community leader — earned her a place among the 2019 class of the Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40, which celebrates Georgia State’s most influential and innovative alumni under 40 years of age.
Today, the Colombia native and her fiancé, Helio Bernal, are settling into their new home in Atlanta’s Mozley Park neighborhood and preparing to open Bernal’s new Mexican restaurant and bodega, D Boca N Boca, on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill.
Photo by Steven Thackston