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Making Good Trouble

From Miller Center to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office, this LEAD Scholar is making a difference—both near and far.
May 22, 2023
By Nicole Calande
A closeup of a student standing in front of a pink neon light on a white wall.
| Photos by Josie Lepe

Since high school, Gianella Ordonez ’23 has lived by a simple motto: “Make good trouble.” These words—first said by civil rights leader John Lewis—inspired her to channel her passion for social justice into concrete action, whatever that might look like.

For example, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Ordonez organized a book club called Collaborative Conversations dedicated to anti-racist learning. She also helped raise $800 for bottled water, snacks, and protective goggles and gloves for local protestors marching in Oakland.

These projects may seem small, just a drop in the bucket, but Ordonez believes that even small actions can have big impact.

“I can get frustrated by the issues I see going on in the world, and I sometimes want a simple fix, but I know it’s only with hard work and skills that things can get better,” she says.

A Silicon Valley local, Ordonez always assumed she’d go out east for college, but after visiting SCU in high school and learning about the LEAD Scholars Program, she found that Santa Clara aligned with her values and identity. Another plus? The generous scholarship she received from the Catala Club would pay for most of her education.

“As a first-generation Latinx student, my whole academic life has been about going to college so that I could eventually make a difference in the communities I’m a part of,” she explains. “But having these identities often comes with a need for spaces where we can find the strength and support to get through institutions like this. I realized that if SCU had LEAD, I could find my place here.”

A student stands on a balcony with the sky and campus behind her.

Once she was officially a Bronco, Ordonez found a place to put her passion for changing the world into concrete action. During the summer of 2021, she learned about an internship at Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

“I knew about nonprofit work, but social enterprises were new to me, and I was really interested in that.”

She spent two summers with Miller Center, where one of her most rewarding projects involved writing blogs for The Harvest Fund, which offers technological and financial assistance to small-scale women farmers in Zambia.

Just as The Harvest Fund can have a huge impact on the lives of these farmers, and by extension, these farmers’ communities, Ordonez began to understand the ripple effect of her role on the organization’s mission. “People can do good in a variety of avenues, and in my case, writing a blog inspires people to donate to [The Harvest Fund] so they can keep doing the work they do.”

A group of women in formal wear and crowns stand under a banner saying

Ordonez (second from right) with friends from Hermanas Unidas.

As she eventually neared the end of her time at Santa Clara, Ordonez secured a spring internship in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco to make a similar level of impact closer to home. There, she had the option to choose her focus, and she chose to help with citizenship and immigration services in order to give back to her local Latinx community.

The work can be pretty mundane at times—filling out forms, answering calls—but Ordonez says that’s what makes it important. “By being familiar with the process, logistics, and the nitty gritty, I can actually see how policy affects people and help constituents out.”

Or in other words, make good trouble.

As she looks at life after this internship and SCU, Ordonez plans on going to law school where she’ll use the lessons from Senator Feinstein’s office to work in immigration and refugee law.

Ordonez pictures herself mostly working behind the scenes in policy research and proposals. However, thanks to the confidence she gained as a LEAD Scholar and the experience she gained as a co-chair of Hermanas Unidas, she doesn’t discount herself as a leader who can take on bigger institutions.

So, while Ordonez hasn’t decided whether she’s aiming for a New York law firm or an office on Capitol Hill, one thing is certain. No matter where she ends up, she’ll continue using the skills she’s gained at Santa Clara to make progress happen, step by incremental step. “I really see myself working my way up—focusing on compromise and communication—because I know that’s what it takes in this field.” She grins and adds, “Hopefully, I’ll make a pretty damn good lawyer.”