Graduate student advances university access for Latinx students

Valeria Alonso Blanco recently got encouragement for her efforts by receiving one of three student scholarships to attend next year’s Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators Conference. She was the only graduate student selected.

Valeria Alonso Blanco wants to do anything she can to help Latinx transfer students have a successful experience at UC Santa Cruz.

The second-year doctoral student in psychology has worked three years with the university’s Cultivamos Excelencia program, which motivates Latinx students to complete a research university degree. A colleague described her as a true scholar-activist.

“I think we can do more as an institution to really serve the students at UCSC,” Blanco said, “not only by increasing the pathway of who comes to the institution, but giving the students the proper resources to navigate the institution and really look into the strength students bring as well.”

Cultivamos Excelencia program was launched by UC Santa Cruz has part of its work as a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution. The designation, which the university received in 2015, has allowed it to receive federal grants to advance educational equity and strengthen support for Latinx students. UC Santa Cruz is one of 539 Hispanic-Serving Institutions and one of only 22 Hispanic-Serving Research Institutions.

As a researcher, Blanco knew that Latinx students are committed to family, so she helped create the annual Family Day event. The program brings community college students and their families to UC Santa Cruz to meet staff, faculty, learn about resources and financial aid, and what it takes to transfer to the university.

“I analyzed the effectiveness of that event and created reports and presentations for campus administration, which helps us institutionalize funding for Family Day for three years,” she said.

Without the support of their families, many Latinx students would never attend university, Blanco said. “Some of the families had never gone to college so they didn’t know what to expect and who their students would interact with,” she said. Once they met UC Santa Cruz staff and faculty, they feel more comfortable allowing their students to attend, she said.

Like many of the students she serves, Blanco is the first member of her family to go to college. Born in Guerrero, Mexico, she migrated to San Diego with her family when she was 9. Her family is proud of her accomplishments, and now her younger brother is also transferring to a University of California campus.

Blanco hopes to eventually become a university faculty member and continue to do research to inform policies and develop resources. She also wants to continue mentoring students from minority backgrounds whose goal is to be in graduate school or engage in research.

Any research she works on has the goal of “creating social transformation, addressing the needs of marginalized communities and changing the various systems of oppression put in place.”

She recently got encouragement for her efforts by being selected for one of three student scholarships to attend next year’s Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators Conference. She was the only graduate student selected. The honor also came with a $1,000 cash award.

“They look for students who demonstrated strong commitment and ability to contribute to their schools,” she said. “I feel privileged to have this opportunity.”