Former U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios talks women on currency, U.S. semiquincentennial at Hispanic Heritage Month event
Rios said that AU students should take an ‘introspective journey’ through college years
The average American University student’s wallet has a license from home, a folded vaccine card and probably some cash featuring a signature from former U.S. Treasurer Rosa ‘Rosie’ Rios, which appears on “$1.2 trillion out of the $1.4 trillion in circulation worldwide,” according to The National Women’s History Museum.
Rios, who was U.S. treasurer during the Obama administration, discussed her work since leaving the White House and offered advice to students at a Sept. 26 event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
At the event, held in the Founder’s Room in the School of International Service, Rios described her efforts to support adding notable women’s faces to the quarter after the passing of the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020. The program began in 2022, with the release of five quarters featuring women for a consecutive four years.
Starting with Maya Angelou, women who have been featured on quarters include Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride and Jovita Idar. Rios’ hope is to one day put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, which the Biden administration has promised to continue pursuing.
Rios emphasized the importance of having women depicted on U.S. currency and said that this isn’t about her; it’s about her daughter, her son and “everyone who should learn about our history in general.”
“For me, when I made that big realization in 2008 that we have never had the portrait of a woman on our federal reserve note — that was when I really found my purpose,” Rios said during the interview.
Rios said she felt as if she found her “true mission,” adding that this is about more than who is pictured on the nation’s currency, but is really about the institutionalization of our history.
“Fifty-one percent of the population should be represented everywhere, not just on our currency,” Rios said again during the interview.
Since stepping down as U.S. treasurer in 2016, she has been awarded the Hamilton Award, “the highest honor bestowed in the U.S. Department of the Treasury” according to America 250, and has also been named one of the ten “Women of the Century” in Maryland by USA Today.
In continuation of her service work, Rios was appointed as chair for the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission created by Congress, which is working with America 250, “a nonpartisan initiative working to engage every American in commemorating the 250th anniversary of our country,” according to their website. The celebration is set for the anniversary on July 4, 2026.
Rios additionally offered advice for undergraduates on how valuable the time in college really is in the interview.
“This is really your reconnaissance time,” Rios said. “This is your time to really understand who you are, what’s meaningful to you, take some time to really reflect a little bit more, and really take that introspective journey that a lot of us forget about when we’re running around.”
This was KPU’s third event of the year. Shreya Joshi, a junior in Kogod and the School of Public Affairs and director of KPU, talked about what it meant to host an event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Right away I knew I wanted it to be for Hispanic Heritage Month. I feel like that’s often a month that’s overlooked,” Joshi said. “It’s really sad because there's so many amazing people from the Hispanic community who are doing amazing things.”
On the significance of having Rios come speak to AU students, Joshi said, “A lot of people don’t highlight women in finance or women in treasury or women in business, even, for that matter. I think [Rios] breaks all of those barriers.”
This article was edited by Kate Corliss, Jordan Young and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Daniel Carson.