Returning the Favor: Why I Chose Higher Education

I believe it is important to improve student experiences and the campus climate in institutions of higher education — particularly for Hispanic students — and have made this a personal goal. I plan to accomplish this goal by entering a career in student affairs in higher education.

I became interested in this career during my junior year of college when I conducted a study titled, “Examining the Readiness of a Selective Campus as It Transitions to Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Status.” In the study, I examined administrators’ perceptions of readiness for a selective university’s transition to becoming a HSI.

I interviewed eight administrators, who described their role at the university and their efforts to create inclusivity, safe spaces, and support for all students. Through my research, I focused on looking at the number of schools that receive HSI funding, and where they allocate their funds. Some common uses of the funds are to create more scholarships for students, increase faculty diversity training, and develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs geared towards mentoring Hispanic students. In addition, since many Hispanic students are first-generation students, there is a huge focus on creating programs to help increase student retention among this population. During my research, I saw how administrators turned their passions into careers, which helped me decide to pursue a degree in student affairs.

As a first generation Chicana/Latina, my parents migrated from Mexico before I was born to ensure that I would have more opportunities than I would have had in our small town in Mexico. But when I entered college, I did not know how to navigate the system on my own. Thankfully, through endless support from different organizations, staff and faculty mentors, and peers on campus, I had a successful college experience. I thrived in my studies and joined various campus organizations. I became extensively involved with the student government, the Student Parent Orientation Program, the Cross-Cultural Center, Greek life, and different internship programs.

During my sophomore year, I joined a research lab led by Jeanett Castellanos, a well-known faculty member and mentor at the University of California, Irvine. Here, I joined not only a research lab, but an academic family of students, mostly first generation college students, interested in one day pursuing a graduate degree and making a difference in their community. Through Castellanos and my peers’ endless support and motivation, I am now in graduate school. This fall, I will start my master’s program in higher education, with a concentration in diversity and social justice, at the University of Michigan. My long-term goal is to receive a doctorate in education and become the director of a multicultural center or student life program at a university.

From my experience, I recognized that although many students are attending college to receive an education, some of them are not being supported to the same extent as other students, due to differences in resources made available to them. It may be harder for some students, especially first-generation students, to navigate the system on their own when they do not have the adequate resources to be successful.

My experiences inspired me work to enhance campus experiences, increase student involvement, and ensure that universities provide resources to support all students. I’m pursuing a career in student affairs so I can easily be involved with students and be aware of the different issues surrounding the universities and their campus climates. I would like to return the favor that I was given, and help first-generations students navigate through their college experience and help them achieve academic and professional success.

Carolina Dominguez-Burciaga graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics