Kat Gutierrez wins LEAD California's 2024 Richard E. Cone Award for Emerging Leaders in Community Engagement

Kat Gutierrez is an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In acknowledgment of her dedication to community engagement, LEAD California awarded Kat Gutierrez, assistant professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the prestigious 2024 Richard E. Cone Award for Emerging Leaders in Community Engagement. This distinction recognizes Gutierrez's deep commitment to efforts  fostering genuine partnerships between academia and the community, amplifying voices, and effecting positive change.

“Given that Kat has already established herself as a driving force of community-engaged work in California at this early stage in her career, I am confident that she will continue to be a leader in this field,” said Humanities Dean Jasmine Alinder, one of the nominators. “Her dedicated mentorship has cultivated a new cohort of student scholars working on public history scholarship and community-engaged work.” 

Along with Dean Alinder, UC Santa Cruz Campus + Community also nominated Gutierrez for the Richard E. Cone Award, which is presented bi-annually by LEAD California. The award celebrates early-career individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership in community engagement, embodying the principles of authentic collaboration and partnership. Gutierrez's remarkable contributions have not only left an indelible mark on campus but have also resonated deeply within the broader Central Coast community.

Gutierrez's journey towards this accolade has been marked by a profound commitment to meaningful community-engaged work. Drawing from her rich background in public health youth-engagement programs and community organizing, Gutierrez found a platform to enact change upon joining UC Santa Cruz by co-establishing Watsonville is in the Heart (WIITH) with Steve McKay, professor of sociology. 

Gutierrez’s dedication to fostering authentic community partnerships has been evident since the inception of WIITH, where she continues to draw inspiration from her colleagues and core members. The latest project from WIITH, Sowing Seeds: Filipino American Stories from the Pajaro Valley, tells the story of Filipino migration and labor in Watsonville and the greater Pajaro Valley of Central California from the 1930s to present. 

Sowing Seeds, curated by Christina Ayson Plank, will be on exhibit at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History from April 12 through August 4. There will be an opening night event on April 12 and The Humanities Institute’s Night at the Museum on June 5 will feature the exhibit.

“I see the award and the Sowing Seeds exhibition as braided together: the four years that it's taken to mount the exhibition, the teamwork involved in the research behind it, and our important relationships with community members and with key partners on campus are what's making the exhibition possible,” Gutierrez said. “The award, I believe, recognizes that. More importantly, it recognizes the significant team effort to do meaningful community-engaged work, which is the foundation of Sowing Seeds.”

Gutierrez has forged robust partnerships with community organizations and educational institutions in Watsonville and the greater Pajaro Valley. The WIITH team’s interdisciplinary approach bridges the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts divisions at UC Santa Cruz, and ensures a holistic and inclusive framework for community-engaged research.

In recognition of her outstanding contributions, Gutierrez will be awarded an honorary certificate and a stipend of $500 by LEAD California. This token of appreciation aims to facilitate further personal and professional growth, underscoring the organization's commitment to nurturing emerging leaders in community engagement.