Text of Invited Speaker Address by Veronica Ahumada Newhart, PhD
Latino Excellence and Achievement Dinner
April 4, 2019
I have been asked, Why this event?
I’ll share a little about myself. I was born and raised in San Gabriel. I went to the mission every Sunday. For long time, I thought every town had a mission - that’s where people got together. Then, I did undergrad in Riverside, was in the honors college, and a friend asked “You’re the only Hispanic in the honors college, doesn’t that bug you?” I said, “Nah, I’m used to it.”
After my BA, I left California for long time, and I'm happy to report that I grew UNaccustomed to it, severely unaccustomed. So, when I came back to California for my PhD, some things felt a little off. But I was here to study if telehealth technologies could be used for homebound pediatric patients to attend school. I focused on that, but on the side, I tried to figure out why things felt a little off for me. I realized that I had lived in states where there weren’t many Latinos….and in those states, where I worked looked a lot like where I lived.
California is so very unique in that 39% of the population is Latino. But I am working in a place where we are only 9% of the graduate students and 5% of the professoriate. So, for four years, I asked a lot of questions, listened a lot, observed, and studied the data from UCOP (University of California Office of the President) - every year. In this time, I learned that academia is also a very unique environment, and we have a very complex thing happening in a very unique setting—the largest population group in the state of California is also the most severely underrepresented in our university system.
I thought about it a lot - because I was working on my dissertation, and I had some procrastinating to do, but it had to be productive procrastination - and I came up with this plan. What if we have an event with three goals (refer to the inside cover of your program):
CELEBRATE RESEARCH EXCELLENCE AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Every graduate student applied to UCI graduate programs to learn and grow in their field because that is what they want to do. That is their passion. This event is centered on that—it’s the commonality all graduate students share. There is a lot of great research being done on the UCI campus. What if we raise the visibility of our community’s contributions? Will raising awareness of achievements help us increase our representation in grad programs and the professoriate? Let’s find out.
RECOGNIZE FACULTY, STAFF, AND ALUMNI WHO FACILITATE SUCCESS IN OUR COMMUNITY
As students, we are a transient population, but there are people who stay here year after year helping student after student. No one gets to the PhD alone. There are many, many people who paved the way and helped you along. My research would not have ever happened if Mark Warschauer hadn’t taken a chance on my research idea, or if Judy Olson hadn’t taken time every week to meet with me about human computer and human robot interactions, or if Jacque Eccles hadn’t also signed on to help me better understand child development and motivation. These people were not just my dissertation committee, they were with me every step of the way - for years.
In my time here, and all across campus in every school, I saw many, many people working very, very hard to help students succeed in graduate programs. What if we take the time to say “Thank you, please come celebrate with us and see in person how your work contributes to improving diversity and inclusion at UCI?”
And to the staff and faculty here tonight, people who are deep in this work, when you see a grad student who is knocking it out of the park, talk to their school. We, as a community, would love to see them and hear about their achievements. We have an event now.
Every awardee here tonight has people to thank. I am going to take a minute and express appreciation for Dean Frances Leslie, who is retiring this year. Under her leadership, Grad Division has helped so many students from underrepresented groups successfully enter, navigate, and complete their graduate programs. I, myself, am extremely thankful for all the support I received from Grad Division. Dean Leslie, there is a little note for you
on page 11 of the program, and we have a plaque for you!
Another goal of this event, is to
BUILD INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY OF ACADEMIC AND PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS
Because we are such a large portion of the California population, we unfortunately have some narratives assigned to us—mostly poverty- and immigration-centered. I’m not saying our community doesn’t struggle with those, but no one gets to choose where they are born or the circumstances they are born into. This event captures what people in our community choose to do; they get up every morning to do this work. What if we take ownership of our narrative and shift it from deficit finding to strength identifying?
I loved typing the program for this event, because I am reminded what true diversity looks like—we are Latinos but some of us are artists, chemists, statisticians, engineers, and some of us study robots.
These are the three pillars of this event. It is a campus-wide celebration to bring together good people, share some good food, and hear some great news! Thank you for coming!
Professor Mark Warschauer and Dr. Veronica Ahumada Newhart