Undergraduate Scholars Honored for Living Out César E. Chávez’s Values
Remembering one’s roots and making progress toward the future has been at the core of UC San Diego’s 22nd annual César E. Chávez monthlong celebration.
At the celebration kickoff held on April 6, the campus community gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of the Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist as well as honor individuals who continue to further his ideals in their communities. During the keynote address, UC Irvine School of Education Dean and Professor Frances Contreras reflected on her family’s history, their impact on her journey and how to continue progress for a thriving Chicanx/Latinx university community.
UC San Diego also awarded four undergraduates with scholarships as part of the annual event for their demonstrated commitment to the advancement of Chávez’s core values on campus and beyond.
“These awards recognize those who uphold the legacy of Chávez by giving back to their community and advocating for the rights and the voices of the underserved,” said Omar Padilla, scholarship subcommittee chair and associate director of academic initiatives at the Raza Resource Centro.
More than 100 students participated in the scholarship essay contest, each sharing how they apply Chávez’s values to generate positive change in the Latinx community and greater society, as well as how they contribute to equity and social justice at UC San Diego. The four awardees are: Briana Gomez (first place), Norma A. Nava (second place), Briana Parker (third place) and Manuel Rodriguez (fourth place).
UC San Diego Today spoke to the scholarship recipients to learn more about their educational journeys, their involvement on campus and more.
“It's as though all of the things in life that burdened me before are all of a sudden aiding me in this journey" says Briana Gomez, a mother of two and a third-year transfer student in Thurgood Marshall College. She is studying anthropology with a biology concentration and minoring in psychology.
Raised in Tijuana, Mexico until the third grade, Gomez grew up in a military family and moved around attending school in states such as Hawaii and California. After earning her associate degree in San Diego, she decided to take the next step of her higher education journey and apply to four-year institutions. She got accepted to every university she applied to and ultimately chose UC San Diego as the best fit.
She was motivated to apply to the scholarship due to the financial support it offered.
“I feel like I am simultaneously in the most uplifting and empowering time of my life, but also in the hardest because I'm having to juggle all these things,” said Gomez. Alongside attending school full time, she also works as a wellness coordinator for the Triton Underground Scholars Initiative at UC San Diego. She is also the vice president of the related undergraduate organization.
For Gomez, winning the scholarship means getting closer to her academic and professional goals. “It is one step, even if only a small little shuffle, closer to reaching my goals of financial liberation, self-empowerment, giving back to the community and being more loving.”
This September, she will be applying to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. “Past that, I’m going to be open to whatever ventures that studying opens up,” she said.
Norma A. Nava
For Norma A. Nava—who grew up in a low-income community in San Bernardino, Calif.—attending college was a big deal in her family.
“My parents didn't have the opportunity to attend college and I’m the oldest in my family, so college was something I really looked forward to,” said Nava, a third-year undergraduate majoring in business psychology in Thurgood Marshall College.
She initially was intimidated about the idea of attending a UC school and didn’t know if she would be capable of keeping up as a first-generation college student. However, her involvement in the GEAR UP program at her high school inspired her pathway to UC San Diego.
“This program was really there to support me in any way they could to encourage me to pursue higher education,” said Nava. “They took us on field trips. They hosted workshops. I was just very active, and I loved having those mentors and the guidance and support.”
Alongside serving as a student assistant for UC San Diego’s Latinx/Chicanx Academic Excellence Initiative, Nava is also currently the alumni liaison for Hermanas Unidas. She has been involved with the undergraduate organization since her first year and the group has helped her find community.
For her essay, Nava–who is also a College Corps fellow leading service work at local high schools–focused on Chavez’s values of service, respect and determination.
“My parents growing up have always told me how important service is and how far it can get you. It's just part of being a human, being a kind and offering person and not only caring about yourself and the person next to you, but the planet that we live on.”
“I'm a Literatures in English major and I've always loved reading. I feel like it's been the most consistent form and source of solace in my entire life,” said Briana Parker, a fourth-year transfer student in Thurgood Marshall College.
She shares that she grew up in a diverse, low-income community in City Heights as part of a Mexican American household. While her parents struggled to provide for her family, Parker says they always made it seem easy.
“I was always inspired by that hard work when I was younger and realized I really loved education and loved being in school,” she said.
For Parker, attending community college prior to transferring to UC San Diego gave her the time and space as a first-generation transfer student to grow as a person before jumping into the rigor of a four-year university.
On campus, Parker works at OASIS as a tutor to help students with their writing. She focuses on community building, providing resources for international students, transfer students and first-generation students who come for additional support.
“As a tutor, I get to engage with these students who understand that I’m somebody who can recognize the struggle and support them, which is so meaningful to me as a future educator,” said Parker, who will be pursuing a Ph.D. program for literature to become a professor.
In addition, Parker is the vice president of UC San Diego’s Tau Sigma chapter, a national academic honors society centered around transfer student success. She has also conducted research as part of the McNair Scholars Program and the university’s Triton Research & Experiential Learning Scholars (TRELS) Program.
“Something that [my parents] have always been pushing for, at least in my generation, is to always to get as much education as you can,” said Manuel Rodriguez, a second-year structural engineering major minoring in Chicano Studies.
Rodriguez, a student in Thurgood Marshall College, shares that he comes from a low-income, first-generation background.
On campus, Rodriguez works at SPACES, which is a fully funded, student-run space that is focused on access, retention and community at UC San Diego. He was inspired to submit an essay after learning that someone who formerly worked at SPACES was a previous awardee of the scholarship.
In his essay, he addressed the importance of institutional support for first-generation, low-income and students of color to succeed on campus. As a student activist, he was fueled by his personal experiences of having to create spaces for students like himself to thrive.
He has taken an active role in MECHA, a student organization that he shares empowers Latinx students and helps generate community and support. He is also involved in GEAR (Guided Engineering Apprenticeship in Research) and is a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.
After graduation, his professional goal is to become a transportation engineer and serve as a voice for underrepresented communities regarding projects that directly impact them.
“I hope to not only change fundamentally whatever company or public system that I'm in, but also be able to provide the experience for communities to just feel trusted and just feel acknowledged enough and affirmed for all of their specific needs,” said Rodriguez.
Throughout the month of April, all campus community members are invited to participate in UC San Diego’s César E. Chávez Celebration. To learn about upcoming events, such as a trip to San Diego's Chicano Park on April 22, visit the online celebration calendar.
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