Kalea Ponce

Cornell University
Class of 2025

Improve equity through social entrepreneurship and personal networks.

According to Kalea, every day is an opportunity for personal growth. A proud Chicago native, she plans to be a businesswoman who takes care of people. Growing up in the restaurant industry, Kalea rose from washing dishes, to the hostess, then to serving tables, and learned from her parents that it takes more than grit and resilience to succeed. Formal education and knowledge in conjunction with aspiration, determination, and resilience create the strongest people and the most successful businesses. In November 2019 the roof of her family’s restaurant caved in, forcing them to close until reopening in January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Having to close again due to the pandemic, and being left without income, Kalea tapped into skills she learned as the media manager for a school club to help her family’s restaurant thrive once they were allowed to reopen. Highlighting their independent, family-run, minority-owned, small business, she kept followers up-to-date about the restaurant’s survival tactics. She worked with her father to re-engineer the menu to include items that use overlapping ingredients and collaborated with neighboring restaurants to expand their dinner service. In collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, she leveraged neighborhood kids to draw restaurant logos, tacos, and related menu items throughout their community to inspire people to come in.

Knowing that education and practice in leadership are her insurance, Kalea throws herself into being the best student she can. The phrase “control what you can control” is integrated into Kalea’s mindset. Today Kalea is a dishwasher, a marketing entrepreneur, and an advocate for small businesses. Gentrification is one example of challenges first-generation families face in American hospitality that prevents them from growing stable, small businesses. Kalea’s dream is to aid immigrants who aspire to open a US business, in addition to continuing to grow her own.

Leadership:

  • Covid Kids Masks, Co-founder and President
  • Sidewalk Chalk Project, Founder
  • Operation Smile, Co-Founder and Treasurer