UCSC student and two time scholarship recipient shares her transformative experiences

Lizeth Peña Sanchez (’24, education, democracy, and justice, Latin American and Latino studies, and sociology)

Lizeth Peña Sanchez (’24, education, democracy, and justice, Latin American and Latino studies, and sociology), has always had a passion for prioritizing social justice issues in youth education. When she discovered an organization doing exactly that, she seized the opportunity. Sanchez spent her summer interning at SLAP Bay Area.

School and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP) is a labor and community coalition formed to defend cities across the Bay Area from those attempting to privatize and gentrify public resources. As an intern, Sanchez participated in a multi-step project conducting and transcribing interviews with teachers from Parker Elementary in Oakland, California. Sanchez says interning with the Schools and Labor Against Privatization Coalition enabled her to build a professional network and reaffirmed her dream of teaching in Oakland. 

“I have learned that the teachers of Oakland do more for their students than teach in a classroom,” Sanchez said. “These teachers care deeply about their students and the resources they have access to. I admire the determination that teachers have and I strive to have this attitude in my future career as an Oakland public school teacher.” 

Sanchez’s internship was made possible through Transforming Futures—a program within UC Santa Cruz’s Institute of Social Transformation—which provided up to $7,500 scholarship awards in summer 2023 to 12 students from underrepresented backgrounds to allow them to pursue unpaid internships over the summer. 

“I was able to use the scholarship I received from Transforming Futures as my main source of income, allowing me to pay for my expenses while being able to intern at such an amazing organization,” Sanchez said.

Transforming Futures opens up opportunities and removes financial barriers for first-generation, underrepresented, and/or low-income students at UC Santa Cruz so they can participate in career-advancing summer internships. All funds for the Transforming Futures Program were made available to students through the generosity and invaluable support of MR Macgill and Ho Nam, whose involvement was motivated by UC Santa Cruz’s student success initiatives. 

“When I read that original proposal to us, I said, ‘Once again, you show me why I love working with UC Santa Cruz.’” MR Macgill says, “Transforming Futures addresses a number of critical issues. The program will teach these students skills that universities don’t always address. Understanding how to interview, understanding how to write a resume, those are all critical skills.”

This wasn’t the first time Sanchez received a scholarship from the Institute for Social Transformation. Sanchez heard about Transforming Futures through Rekia Jibrin, assistant professor of critical studies of education at UC Santa Cruz, and Sanchez’s mentor in the Building Belonging Program.

The Building Belonging program at UC Santa Cruz fosters student success, increases engagement, and builds a greater sense of belonging for under-represented undergraduate students through faculty-mentored service-learning and research projects. Faculty apply to the program, and if selected, can choose to mentor up to four students per academic year. Student fellows receive $1500 per quarter and are expected to contribute approximately 100 hours per quarter to the project.

While participating in the Building Belonging Program in 2023, Sanchez was able to craft and conduct a research project centered around how Restorative Justice impacts high school students in Oakland. The School Youth, Restorative Justice, and Dilemmas of Structural Violence research project, piloted by Jibrin, aimed to prioritize the voices of adolescents who are directly impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline. While working on this project, Sanchez focused primarily on transcribing interviews and using first-level analysis to identify themes across multiple data sets. As a result, Sanchez was able to become more immersed in her community. 

This program prepared me for my career path by opening my eyes to issues happening in the community of Oakland,” Sanchez said during the 2023 Building Belonging student showcase.

Scholarships at UCSC lift the burden of worry and financial barriers students face. It also provides the invaluable resource of time: time to learn, study, fully engage in purposeful careers, and immerse themselves in all that the college experience has to offer. They have far-reaching impacts that go beyond the individuals and families who benefit from them. 

For Sanchez, the scholarships she received from Transforming Futures and Building Belonging reinforced her goals of becoming a teacher in Oakland and supporting future students and community. 

“My experience helped shape me as a future teacher who cares deeply about her students, the community, and the issues they face in the system.” 

To learn more about the Transforming Futures program or the Building Belonging program, visit the Institute for Social Transformation's website