'Representation Matters.' is an archive that highlights professionals currently pursuing different career fields.

This project hopes to highlight individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds as it acknowledges the lack of BIPOC representation within many professional career fields.

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We hope this archive will help inspire current and future youth to continue pursuing their career goals.

Janel Ortiz

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

I am currently an Assistant Professor in Biology at a minority-serving institution in southern California. More specifically, I am a wildlife biologist but also a science education researcher. I study wildlife and how they use our urban spaces. I also study how K-12 and college students learn best and identifying ways to support them in the classroom, particularly first-generation and underrepresented students. My field is somewhat the same since I left college. I left college wanting to be a practicing wildlife biologist working for a state agency like California Fish and Wildlife but I found that education is my passion during my Master's degree and pursued a PhD to be able to teach at the university level.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I love animals and enjoy observing them as they are. With that, I knew this was the right path for me. As for being a professor, I am still trying to navigate belonging in a career that has been tough for women and women of color to get in to and even more so belong in. Only time will tell!

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

I identify as first-generation Mexican-American. Both sides of my family are from central Mexico (Aguascalientes and Zacatecas) and immigrated to the Los Angeles area of California.

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

At first it was tough to find a mentor but honestly it came with time and you eventually realize your mentor is someone who wants the best for you and is always there to support you in any part of life whether it be academic, personal, social, etc. Having a mentor or mentors has made me realize that although people say no, I am still going to pursue what I want in life. There will always be things or people bringing you down, but you must stay motivated, and you can with the support of your mentor(s). I have always wanted to be a mentor. Since college I realized I didn't know a lot of the ins-and-outs of academics and life in general. I wanted to make sure I would be there for others who needed it.

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

There is going to be a lot of rejection. The first one or few may hurt, and you think you are done but you aren't. Use that to motivate you to do even better next time and your time will come. Those rejections will only make you stronger and once you make it, be sure to celebrate!

Viviana Zambrano

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

I am a Higher Education Professional, currently working with the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program at Montclair State University as a Counselor/Advisor. The EOF Program serves highly motivated students from either academically or financially disadvantaged backgrounds. This is the field that I went into right after college.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I was blessed to be a part of the Educational Opportunity Fund Program (EOF) at Seton Hall University where I came in contact with nurturing, supportive professionals. As a first-generation college student at the time, I didn't always feel seen and supported at my predominantly white institution. The EOF staff made me feel like I belonged at the university by teaching me accountability and advocacy. This in turn made me look at higher education as a career path.

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

My parents and I immigrated to the United States from Ecuador when I was 3 years old. I was raised to value family and education above all else. My parents always stressed that I had to go to college. I would always wonder, "how do I get there?" It was truly a destination without a roadmap. This is the story of many who are the first in the family to go to college.

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

I have benefited from both formal and informal mentorships. One of my first mentors I met as an undergraduate student. She was the Assistant Dean of Students, Peruvian and she spoke with an accent! Seeing someone in her position, who shared a similar immigrant background to mine really meant so much to me. I felt seen and heard whenever I visited her office. She challenged me to see myself differently, to dream bigger. When she asked, "How are you?" she really wanted to know, always pausing to wait for a response. I often think of the things she taught me as I speak with my own mentees. It's important to have mentors for different stages of your life. The process of finding a mentor often starts with a simple conversation.

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

I cannot stress mentorship enough! There are so many resources available to students looking to pursue high education as a career path! Start by speaking with people who work in different parts of higher education. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If there are higher ed professionals you connect with, ask them about their journey, graduate programs, and work experiences.

Chawanna B. Chambers

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

My primary field is K-12 education, but I have worked in the nonprofit industry in organizations that focused on K-12 academic opportunities as well as in higher education. Yes, I am still in the field I began working in post-college.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I would say that the confirmation comes from the fulfillment I get in the work I do. I used to believe that there was only one field for me, but now I am sure that I make a conscious effort to remain in K-12 education because I believe in the children I serve and in our ability as humans to use education as a vehicle for equity.

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

I am a Black American, cisgender woman as well as a first-generation college graduate. My mother completed her BA after I finished two of my three degrees.

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

I've actually never had a mentor within my field. There have certainly been people who encouraged me to pursue opportunities or offered advice, but I cannot think of anyone who has served as my mentor. That's one of the things I wish weren't the case. However, my experiences navigating my career as a BIPOC and woman influenced my choice to be a mentor to others who might need it. It can get quite lonely for us, especially in fields where there are so few BIPOC or where the culture is dominated by white- or male-centrism.

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

Zero in on your "why" for choosing K-12 education, and make sure that it doesn't have anything to do with being a savior for BIPOC children. They do not need saviors; they need adults who will remove the barriers of institutionalized racism so that they can become the people they want to be without having to fight countless obstacles to get there.

Rebeca Paz

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

I work in higher education. Yes, started in higher education right after graduating with my master’s degree.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I reflected on past jobs and specifically on the ones I did not like, and I narrowed down the fields that were not a good fit for me.  While in undergraduate, I worked at student services offices in my college and loved the experience. I  realized I belonged in higher ed because I loved what I was doing.  

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

First-gen Latina immigrant to the USA.

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

Looking back, my mentors were some of my supervisors.  I realize that what they had in common is that they believed in me and that built my confidence; they supported me intentionally, it was not random.   That experience encourage me to be a mentor to others and realize the power of a mentoring relationship.

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

Get career related or shadowing experiences to make sure this is the right fit for you. Once you realize this is the right fit, believe in yourself, find mentors, and a support system. We do not exist in a vacuum and we need a community to grow  personally and professionally and to make a difference in society. Seek out to grow and thrive in spaces related to your interesting identities.

Hansy Better Barraza

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

I'm still doing architecture, but my postgraduate degree was a Master's in Architecture and Urban Design. I'm now starting to teach more about urbanism in academia.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I thought the field was inclusive, you know, when I was entering into it. I would say, immediately I knew that I didn't belong in my first semester project at Cornell. When there was an assignment given to the students, and we had to do a three dimensional clay model of a memory and what I did was basically I built like New York City. I just created this beautiful urban three dimensional landscape. And at that moment, my professor said it wasn't what they were expecting. And so I think that crushed me, and I realized that I thought I belonged, but the institution, did not accept what I was bringing. So I think that was the moment in which I realized that I didn't belong. I  think there was just  preconceptions of what Architecture should look like when I entered the field in the 90s.

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

I'm Colombian and I say, always that I belong to three races. I see myself, belonging to the descendant of Black, European, and indigenous, so as a Colombian I am part of those three races. And then in terms of, First-Gen, I would say I am an immigrant as I immigrated to this country. And so I'm an immigrant not even first generation. I immigrated when I was seven years old with my mom and she brought me to this country by herself.

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

My colleagues and peers were my mentors when I was studying architecture. I had my classmates when I pursued Architecture, I had a very strong class of Latino and Black students. I mean, it was in the 90s. We were represented really well, and we set up a culture setup where the older students would look out for the incoming students. So I would say those were my initial mentors and then as I move forward into the later years, Cornell brought in two Black faculty and junior faculty, and then I started to look to them in terms of mentorship. Mentorship was important because, as we mentioned earlier, I felt like I didn't belong. They were able to guide me in terms of how to deal with what we call now microaggressions. Back then, there was no filter and one was always on the receiving end with a power structure and so my peers, being there for a while, or taking a long time to complete the coursework, their mentorship was instrumental to in laying a path for me to succeed.

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

I would say work really hard and find your mentors that you can. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Because the more questions you have, or ask things that you don't understand. There are people there to guide and help you and you would do that much better the next round. This is going to be funny for me to say this to you but my mom always said to me, “yo tengo que saber cómo limpiar la cosa porque cómo le voy a decir a otra persona que me la limpie por mí” (I have to know how to clean the house because how am I going to tell another person to clean it for me). I think that's because I grew up with my mom who was a housekeeper. It was good advice because, basically, it's like me being an employer right now. You better know how to do everything, because how else are you going to lead or what happens if that person is not there, or what happens if you have a financial crisis? I feel like you have to be hungry to learn and to know. It's probably the most liberating thing, just like education has been for me, it's the most liberating thing you can do for your mind to set yourself free from not knowing how to do things.

Mariana Martinez

What is your field? Are you still in the field you started post-college? 

I am in the Community College Student Services area. Yes, sort of. I am now in Management in Student Services in the Community College system.

How did you know you belonged in your field? 

I did not. I was an Upward Bound student in high school and I knew I wanted to do what those that helped me do, be an advisor or director of a program like Upward Bound. As an undergraduate student I worked as a student assistant with Upward Bound and other student service programs, that is when I realized that I could do this as a career/profession.

What is your cultural identity? Are you first or second generation?

I identify as MeXicana, I was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. as a young kid, I grew up in California and through time I began to identify as a Xicana, and now as a MeXicana that is inclusive of my Mexican roots and Xicana identity. 

How did you find a mentor within your field? How has having a mentor impacted you? Did it encourage you to become a mentor?

I found my earliest mentor through Upward Bound, my advisor Howard. He eventually became my supervisor as student assistant and then as the Director of the program. Now we are colleagues as he is at another community college and we are both managers. He truly helped me understand the role of a mentor and how to build from those relationships. After him I have had mostly women of color femtors that have taught me about femtorship and the important role women play in higher education. I value these relationships deeply. They have changed my trajectory. I have a PhD thanks to these femtors. Because of them I am who I am and I get to femtor and mentor the next generation of Xicanx in higher education. 

What is any advice you would give to current students interested in pursuing a career within your field?

Be open to all the opportunities presented to you. I started as a student assistant in a program that opened so many doors, and all I wanted to do was give back. What I got in return has been so much more. The people I have met and the places I have been fortunate to visit, all have been because I wanted to give back to a program that had given me so much earlier on in my young life. With that in mind, never be afraid to spread your wings when you know it is time to move on.