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CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

The purpose of the Career Highlights is to provide career guidance and motivation to first-gen college students.

The featured first-gen college graduates and professionals have kindly agreed to volunteer their time for informational interviews. If you wish to connect with a featured first-gen professional, please email me at firstgen.resilience@gmail.com with the subject "Career Highlights: Informational Interview."

Submit a Career Highlights Form

 

 

MAIRA HERNÁNDEZ 

She/Her/Ella
Award Winning Author and Recruitment Specialist at UC Santa Cruz

Undergraduate Degree and Institution 
BA, UC Berkeley

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

I started my career in the nonprofit sector and moved forward to working in higher ed at universities. Through my experience I also began to explore more of culture and travel and through the process became an award winning author in my book Aventura, Amor y Tacos exploring the journey of reconnecting to my Mexican roots.

Being the first in my family to go to college and also navigating a professional career were big lessons for me. Publishing a book was also a new journey. Through all of these experiences I realized that new journeys are a part of my inheritance, coming from a family that came to a new country, that's where my courage to try new things come from. 

What and/or who inspired you? 

Family, my parents and my abuelos and all of their hard work and sacrifices to open new doors for me and my siblings.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Find a community and mentors for support and surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams. 

Words of Encouragement:

You have everything you need to succeed, your courage and strength comes from your family and community. They believed in their dreams so you could believe in yours!

DR. JOSE L. SALDIVAR

He, Him, El

Senior Lecturer and Learning Framework Program Director, UTRGV

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

BA, Chicana/o Studies, Stanford University

Graduate Degree and Institution:

MA, Social Sciences of Ed., Stanford University, PhD, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Texas at Austin

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

Traditional preparation (i.e. public high school), lack of knowledge of higher Ed system,  peers, faculty, mentors.

What and/or who inspired you? 

Parents, teachers, advisors, mentors.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Keep an open mind. There’s no such thing as “the perfect job.” Learn as much as you can and develop interpersonal skills and commit to aways learning and growing.

Words of Encouragement:

You got this!

CHELSEA FRANCOMARTIN

She/her/ella

Case Manager | Eagleton Fellow

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

Criminal Justice/Political Science- Temple University

Graduate Degree and Institution:

Master of Public Administration: Community Development- Rutgers University

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

My career path thus far has been a journey but despite the challenges and blocks in the road it has been worth all of the hard work. I don’t know that I was prepared at all but somehow I navigated my way through it, had incredible support, met the right mentors, built those relationships, and have used my experience coupled with the resources I gained through fostering meaningful mentorship and connections. People are really your greatest resource! Seek mentors that have been where you’re tying to go and build connections every step of the way. I’m currently in the process of applying to law school to take my career to the next level as well as working on a Graduate Certificate at University of New Mexico in Chicana/o studies to lay the foundation for my PhD to set myself up for a career as a profesora and hopefully course developer and program creator further down the line. 

What and/or who inspired you?

Mi papi, mi familia, y mi gente.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

I could probably write a book on all of the advice I have to prepare for the line of work I am in but I like to tailor any advice I give to the individual. One thing I will say is staying focused, taking advantage of opportunities presented to you even if they’re intimidating, and networking are the best things you can do to push yourself forward.

Words of Encouragement:

You got this! Things can get hard and we all have times where we would rather just give up but we have to push through. In the end when we look back, it will all be worth it and honestly, you may even surprise yourself. I know I’ve surprised myself. And most importantly, never ever let imposter syndrome hold you back or keep you down. It’s real and it comes for the best of us.

MARIA RENTERIA

She/her

Attorney

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

UC Berkeley

Graduate Degree and Institution:

UT Law (Austin)

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

Went straight to UC Berkeley after high school. Then took 3 years off after undergrad to work as a paralegal. I unexpectedly got accepted into a school that I had not really considered. I found out more about their clinic programs and decided to attend there since my first choice school rejected me. During law school, I did not get the best grades, and I don't think many people thought I was smart. However, I did not give up and decided to do as many clinics as possible because I learn best by doing rather than listening. The clinics were the best part of law school.

What and/or who inspired you?

My parents and family in general. The community I grew up in is very low income and made up on immigrants, so I decided to pursue law to help people like them. Additionally, there are not a lot of attorneys in my hometown so I eventually want to go back to my community and start my own law firm or nonprofit organization.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

In immigration law (especially if you are doing removal / deportation work) you will have to deal with a lot of secondary trauma. Have a plan to deal with the secondary trauma and take care of yourself. Know your limitations and ask for help when you need it.

Words of Encouragement:

You can do this! No matter how hard the road seems and no matter whether you think you are smart enough or not, please know you are smart and you can do this! Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and people who have as big of goals as you do.

RENÉ GARCÍA-HERNÁNDEZ

Él/He/Him

Director of Programming & Community Engagement

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

Sociology and Dance Pedagogy, CSUN

Graduate Degree and Institution:

Education and Leadership Administration; CSUCI

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

I have always a had a si se puede, si se pudo, y si se va poder mentality. While feeling my way around in the dark in my educational trajectory as an undocumented I dividí al; I have always done so confidently and with a commUNITY behind me. The biggest challenge has been not having clarity of where I could go because of the real challenges and barriers presented to Undocumented students and the romanticism of educational and career success that is ever changing for our community. The greatest resource to get me through it all has been self soothing and care. I have sought out the support physically, mentally, and emotionally to keep my well-being at a place where I have control in navigating my unknown outcomes.

What and/or who inspired you? 

My greatest inspiration has been my mother. She has taught me more than any education system has and will ever. She has taught me how to make latent decisions with ethics, dignity, and courage. She has taught me to trust the process paved by my ancestors; and has taught me how to budget accordingly to survive and create my own abundance.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Seek within to know your core values. These will guide you even when you can’t identify what type of guidance you need. Trust yourself and have plan W,X,Y, and Z lined up.

Words of Encouragement:

Remember si se puede, si se pudo, y si se va poder!

DRA. YVETTE MARTÍNEZ-VU

She/Hers/Ella

Academic Coch, Consultant, and Founder of Grad School Femtoring, LLC

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

BA in English Literature, UCLA

Graduate Degree and Institution:

PhD in Theater and Performance Studies, UCLA

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

My identity as a Chicana mother-scholar has directly informed my nontraditional academic career path. Initially, I thought I wanted to pursue the professoriate but soon realized that it didn’t align with my value of putting service first. I then transitioned to an alt-ac job directing an undergraduate research and grad school preparation program and as much as I loved it, I also felt limited in my capacity to help a larger population. I now serve as an academic coach and host a podcast where I get to help thousands of people in their pursuit of graduate school and in achieving their personal and professional goals.

What and/or who inspired you? 

My community inspires me—from my fierce single mother who sacrificed so much for me to be here, to my partner and children who are my biggest cheerleaders, to my first-gen women of color comadres who have my back when I need them, to my first-gen student of color femtees whose incredible identities and experiences keep me humble and make me proud.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

There’s so much healing involved in the process of becoming an academic coach and femtor for others. It’s an ongoing unlearning of all the internalized messages that tell first-gen women of color that we’re not good enough, or that our voice doesn’t matter, or that we don’t deserve to get paid for our knowledge and services. A big part of it also involves expanding your comfort zone and taking a leap of faith. My best advice is to surround yourself with others on similar paths, build community, keep learning, and give yourself time.

Words of Encouragement:

Dream. Dream big. Keep dreaming. Turn that dream into a goal. Take one small step toward that goal today. You got this!

 

SOFI SANABRIA-GUILLEN

She/her(s)|ella

Programs Assistant - ONDAS Student Center

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

BA in History, Pre-Credential - California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Graduate Degree and Institution:

MA in Education, University of California, Santa Barbara

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

My determination to pursue student affairs began during my experience as a first-generation college student. I realized I needed support in my educational journey but wasn’t sure what or how I would find it. In my experience, I found resources that were available to me but I didn’t feel like they were *for* me or acknowledged my experiences. I decided I’d pursue my MA in Education and search for opportunities where I can support first-gen students navigating higher education. I joined the ONDAS Student Center as the Graduate Student Mentor where I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do; be a mentor to first-gen students. I gained experience, knowledge, perspective, and networks that allowed me to grow as an aspiring young professional. I am currently transitioning into my new role as the Programs Assistant for the Center; my first full-time, professional position where I will continue my work supporting students and remain as a mentor to students. While it may sound as if my path was clear from the beginning - it wasn’t. There has been a lot of anxiety, uncertainty, imposter syndrome, and challenges along the way. I am open to chatting with anyone about the real experiences that take place for first-gen scholars like ourselves!

What and/or who inspired you? 

My family is the biggest inspiration in my life and education. My community and future generations of students have been inspirational for the work I do. I’ve also had amazing mentors who have helped me find my voice in academia and student affairs.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

I’d say the biggest factor that unites student & academic affairs professionals is the passion to support students. If you are interested in higher education, I recommend connecting with staff members with similar identities as yourself and/or are in roles that you plan to pursue. I love surrounding myself with first-gen community because we are folks who understand each other’s experiences more than others.

Words of Encouragement:

You are not alone and you do not have to do this alone. Ask for help, ask questions! I also believe what is for you will not miss you; the opportunities that will support your growth will find you but we do need to make an effort to surround ourselves with support systems to help us get through it all.

DAINELIS RODRIGUEZ

She/Her

Marketing Director at Brilla & Business Immigration Assistant at Marks Gray, P.A.

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

Bachelor of Science in Communication at the University of North Florida

Graduate Degree and Institution:

Master of Science in Criminal Justice at the University of North Florida

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

I did two years at a community college where I took my general education courses. Because I was the first in my family to experience college in the United States, everything was new to me and my parents. I learned about renting books at the library or using Chegg.com. Sometimes there were groups on social media per community college where students who have already taken the courses offered books at a cheaper rate. I learned about grants and how to find and apply for scholarships for minorities. I utilized the library a lot for studying and tutors. After my two years, I did two years of undergraduate at a university. There I reached out to the financial aid department and always try to see what scholarships there were. I went to the career center and they helped me with my resume and choosing a career path. I utilized the writing center a lot for my papers. I learned to break out of my shell and not be afraid to ask for help. For my graduate program, I used the same tactics. I sought help at the writing center. I asked my professors for assistance and job outlook. I became a teacher's assistant through my connections to help pay for my program and helped mentor undergraduate students through the process I have been through.

What and/or who inspired you?

My parents are my biggest motivators and inspirations. They both went to college in Cuba and left behind their careers, their life, their families, and their friends for the opportunity to come to America. They always wanted me to go to college but they never forced a career onto me. Yes, they did suggest being a doctor or lawyer but most important, they wanted me to make the decision.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Don't doubt yourself because you don't have the full experience the job is stating. Shoot your shot, form your resume to that specific position and submit. You gain experience as you practice in the field.

 Words of Encouragement:

Never let anyone's opinions take your own idea away. Always [weigh] the pros and cons of each and go for it if you truly believe in it. In my small business, our saying is... Nunca Apagues Tú Luz. 

DR. TOMAS MADRIGAL

He/Him
Equity & Social Justice Strategist, Washington State Department of Health 

Food Systems Researcher, Community to Community Development

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:
BA in Comparative Ethnic Studies, Washington State University

Graduate Degree and Institution:
PhD in Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California Santa Barbara

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):
Started undergrad in pre-med; had a spat with the growers foundation over union organizing and they revoked my scholarship; I changed majors and studied ethnic studies; I got a MA from same institution then applied to graduate school at UCSB, accumulated over 500,000 in student debt from UCSB; extended my dissertation to document the formation of a farmworker union, helped them get a contract; started working in Public Health in community engagement, paid well with benefits and student loan forgiveness, took a job at the state Public Health Department, led community engagement in emergency response to COVID-19.

What and/or who inspired you?
My mentor Rosalinda Guillen, founder of Community to Community Development.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:
Mission Drift also includes major professors influencing you to stray away from your own research interests; you will never do their research interest better than you will your own. You can learn from them though, and integrate what they teach toward achieving your own goals (i.e. I integrated oral histories into my research design of agricultural workers)

Words of Encouragement:
Stay true to your moral incentive in your work. What you love, what you live. In the long run this is way more sustainable than chasing a dollar or any other material incentive. In the end those that don't follow a moral incentive of their own will not be in your life, only those that stayed true to the things that they loved and brought life.

CYNTHIA MORENO

she/her/ella

University of La Verne

Undergraduate Degree and Institution:

Business Administration Marketing, Mount St. Mary's University

Graduate Degree and Institution:

 Master of Science in Leadership and Management, University of La Verne

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

I started in the corporate sector at KTLA Channel 5 then moved to Univision Ch 34 and enjoyed my career but after 10 years I decided this was not rewarding for me and my soul. After some reflection I decided to transition to higher education and help others from similar backgrounds which is my true passion.

Positive Mindset. Social capital. Networking.

What and/or who inspired you?

My mother.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Mentors. Network. Internships.

 Words of Encouragement:

Si se puede! You are enough!

DR. ELVIA ESPINNO

she/Her

Graduate Degree and Institution:

Master of Education, University of St. Thomas- Houston

Doctor of Education, Organizational Change and Leadership, USC

Briefly describe your career path (preparation, challenges, and resources):

What preparation?! I was failed at every level by my school system. Fast forward. As soon as I "woke up," I enrolled at my community college. I had lots of failed attempts at semesters but I was loyal to my dreams of becoming first in my family. There were countless semesters I did not know how I was going to pay for college. I cleaned houses in between my classes once my schedules got so complex that a traditional work schedule would not accommodate. I sought after every person I remotely admired for advice. No one is going to give you anything. The sooner we understand that there are systems in place designed for our failure, we will be motivated enough to change them. You have to go and get it!

What and/or who inspired you?

Looking outside my neighborhood I did not see anyone who remotely embodied success. So I looked outside of it for my inspiration. The desire to be better than I had is what pushed me.

Advice to prepare for your field of work/career:

Research every living and breathing person who works in the field you desire. Reach out to them, the company, the industry, etc. Do not let one ego driven maniac detour you!

 Words of Encouragement:

If it was easy everyone would do it! If I can do it, so can you!

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