Challenging the Status Quo
Q&A with Alejandra Magaña Gamero '18
How did you become involved with the Ignatian Center and in what capacity?
I first became involved with the Ignatian Center in the fall of my sophomore year (Sept 2015) when I became a Thriving Neighbors student assistant. I served as an SA until the summer after graduation (Sept 2018). My junior year I participated on a Spring Break immersion trip to El Salvador.
How did that involvement impact your time at SCU? Your personal life?
Wow, it is crazy to reflect on this since it has been more than 4 years since I first became involved with Thriving Neighbors. However, to answer this question, I first need to talk about my first year at SCU. My freshman year I was quite miserable, so much so that I was certain that I was going to transfer schools. Ultimately I did not as I was on a full ride at SCU and could not pass up that opportunity. During the summer before my sophomore year Georgina Santiago, who now works in HR, told me that the Ignatian Center was hiring for their Thriving Neighbors program. I had no idea what Thriving Neighbors was but I decided to look into it and applied. When I came on board, I immediately began to find my place at SCU. First, my amazing boss, mentor, role model, and friend, Irene Cermeño, challenged me but also allowed me to grow personally, academically, and professionally. Irene trusted in my abilities as a Student Assistant and contributed to the growth in my confidence. Furthermore, when I started getting involved with the Greater Washington Community, I immediately felt at home. Coming from a close, traditionally Mexican family, SCU lacked in filling that void when I went to college. Through my interactions, meetings, dinners, etc., with community members I was able to feel like I had a little piece of home with. Thriving Neighbors allowed me to finally feel at home at SCU, which in turn allowed me to thrive in my academics and extracurricular activities. Had I not become involved with the Ignatian Center’s Thriving Neighbors, I can truly say that I don't know if I would have made it to graduation. Personally, I was able to reaffirm what my passions are in life. Thriving Neighbors and the community we worked with allowed me to stay grounded and to be intentional in the work that I engaged in as a scholar.
Did your involvement with the Ignatian Center impact your decision for post graduate studies or future vocation? How?
Yes! Through the Ignatian Center I was able to witness the different ways in which one can make an impact or leave their mark in this world. As a first-generation, Mexican student I decided to go into education as I strive to always positively influence students through mentorship. I hope to engage in work that creates policy and structural level changes to break down the institutional barriers that have continuously affected the most marginalized populations.
What have you been doing since graduation?
After graduating from SCU I went straight to UCLA to pursue a Master's in Social Sciences and Comparative Education. I graduated from that program in June of 2019 and went on to pursue my PhD in Social Sciences and Comparative Education, at UCLA as well. During my time at UCLA, I have worked as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) with the Center for Transformation of Schools. As a GSR I work to identify the key supports necessary to take 9th grade males at the stage of academic preparation we find them, and help them build the foundational knowledge, skills and competencies associated with computer science, all done from a culturally relevant pedagogical approach. Also for a short period I worked as a Behavior Interventionist Implementer for Early Strides Child Development. I assisted in implementing behavior intervention plans, as well as monitored, supported, and tracked progress of acquisition of appropriate skills, performance and behaviors.
Has your past involvement with the Ignatian Center continued to impact your current situation, decisions, plans? How?
My time at the Ignatian Center as a student assistant for Thriving Neighbors served to reinforce my passion for social justice and educational equity. Through my work in Thriving Neighbors I realized that my passion lies in the empowerment of communities of color; particularly those with the greatest academic, social, economic and emotional needs, who therefore have been disenfranchised by structural inequalities that have been rendered normal. Thriving Neighbors taught me to challenge the status quo, and fight to improve conditions for traditionally underrepresented communities. On another note, through Thriving Neighbors I learned about the importance of building relationships with the communities we work with. As a PhD student producing academic research, I find it extremely important to engage in reciprocal, respectful, and meaningful relationships, while reminding ourselves that we are not superior or more knowledgeable simply because we are researchers.
How do you hope to use your bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees?
One day, I hope to be a tenure-track faculty member at a prestigious institution of higher education to contribute to the literature surrounding issues of social justice, educational equity, and access for Chicanx/Latinx students. My goal is to continue independent research that will contribute to the growth of the discipline, the decolonization of knowledge, and the socially-just empowerment of communities. I strive to pursue a career in academia to intentionally take up space in educational institutions that I once believed I was not worthy of.
What would you say to an SCU student about getting involved in our programs?
There are two things I would say. The first is to take advantage of all the amazing opportunities the Ignatian Center offers, which leads to my second point. Take advantage of all these opportunities and be open to new experiences while being vulnerable. I know that as a first year student I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone and did not apply to Immersions. Once I started working for Thriving Neighbors, I noticed that being vulnerable with the community I worked with allowed me to connect on a deeper level to the point where I still maintain many of those friendships. Don't be afraid to try new things, and meet new people!