#ImmigrantHeritageMonth: “Use Your Voice”

Fernanda Perdomo-Arciniegas was on a path to become a lawyer in her native Colombia when she immigrated to the United States. But when she arrived, in California, most of her university credits were non-transferable and she felt unsure about her written English skills. So she enrolled at West Valley College where she completed an associate’s degree in math while enhancing her language proficiency. She transferred to San Jose State University, where she earned a bachelor’s in mathematics/statistics  in 2001 and a master’s in Public Administration in 2008. Now the deputy diversity officer for SJSU, she started her career at SJSU in 2002, working first in Academic Affairs in the math and biology departments for five years and then in Student Affairs, as director of Campus and Community Relations for 10 years.

“One thing I focused on was access to college,” she said. “For immigrant parents or first-generation children, navigating K-12 can be confusing. I wanted to demystify the college process and help families get their students on a path to higher education. We, as parents, want our children to succeed regardless of our national origin or education background.”

As a mother of two, she said she also wanted to learn more about the United States K-12 system to help her own children.

Perdomo-Arciniegas helped to create College Day, where families of K-12 students could visit SJSU to learn more about preparing for college, and also oversaw the Advancing Latinx Achievement and Success Conference. She helped to facilitate the Spartan East Side Promise, an agreement that offers a clear roadmap for admission for students in the East Side Union School District to San Jose State University.

“As  an immigrant, I feel a responsibility to advocate, to speak up, to use my voice now that I have a place at the table,” she said. “It is very important to remember where you came from and to use your voice to set the stage for those who are coming after you.”

She found herself quite literally using that voice as a Spanish-language translator at times during community meetings between the university and neighborhood families who worried about the effect of impaction on admissions. Through the years, she also found herself advocating for underrepresented minority students, specifically undocumented students.

As the daughter of educated parents who was privileged to immigrate through legal channels, she said she has always empathized with undocumented students.

“While working on a resource guide by and for undocumented students, I learned of their dreams, hopes, difficulties and fears,” she said. “As an immigrant, I related to undocumented students at some level (learning a second language, being misunderstood often, culture shock, etc.), but I could never equate my privileged experience to theirs. They taught me so much during our work together.”

And she also appreciates the importance of cultural traditions, no matter where one lives. She and her family continue to participate in Novena de Aguinaldo (Nine Days of Christmas), in which they pray, sing and tell a special story of the birth of Jesus. Different friends host each year, and the Colombian Consulate collects toys to donate to their native country.

“For us, Christmas is always about family and it’s also a time to give back and be generous with our gifts, spiritual and/or material,” she said. Giving back is a mantra for Perdomo-Arciniegas.

In celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, San Jose State University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion along with the University Advancement Strategic Communications and Marketing team collected and shared stories of Spartan students, faculty, staff and alumni who have unique and inspiring immigrant narratives. In addition, the university is highlighting research, scholarship and creative activities that enhance our understanding of immigration and contributions of immigrant populations to the fabric of our campus community and our society. See some of the photos posted on SJSU’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

December 2015 Newsletter: CommUniverCity – A Model of Learning and Service

An SJSU student volunteer works with elementary school children through CommUniverCity.

An SJSU student volunteer works with elementary school children through CommUniverCity.

San Jose State’s unique CommUniverCity program, which marked 10 years of service to the San Jose community this year, was honored at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting Nov. 17 with the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award.

For a decade, San Jose State students, faculty and staff have fostered a unique partnership with the City of San Jose and community organizations through CommUniverCity. The collaboration supports residents in neighborhoods that surround the campus with such activities as after-school tutoring, nutrition education, adult financial literacy classes and much more.

For the last five years, CommUniverCity has been involved in College Day with volunteers visiting 13 downtown schools this year. Volunteers included SJSU students, staff, faculty and alumni who spent an hour each visiting 50 K-12 classrooms in an effort to get younger students thinking about college.

Lorri Capizzi, a lecturer in the counselor education department in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, motivated students in one of her courses to adopt Lowell Elementary School for College Day.

“Her class usually has 25 to 40 students,” said Elizabeth Figueroa, the Education Programs manager for CommUniverCity. “They provide great visuals and get a lot out of the experience.”

College Day participation is just one of more than 50 community action projects that together brought national recognition to CommUniverCity this fall. Representatives from each college are involved in projects.

Provost Andy Feinstein and CommUniverCity Associate Director Katherine Cushing, who is also an associate professor in the College of Social Sciences environmental studies department, traveled to Indianapolis to represent SJSU at the APLU meeting where the winner of the C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award was announced.

Dayana Salazar, the executive director of CommUniverCity and a professor in the College of Social Sciences urban and regional planning department, said she and her office colleagues jumped up and down when they got the news from Feinstein that they had won.

“It’s national visibility, which is something we have been intentionally putting more effort into,” Salazar said. “It deserves a lot more recognition. It is quite special. It keeps bearing fruit and taking new directions — it is renewed every year.”

Salazar said there is potential for sharing the model with other universities and cities as well as more opportunities to delve deeper into the established programs in San Jose.

“We do a lot of work day to day,” she said. “We know we all put a lot of heart in our work. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to stop and take a look at the larger picture. It’s time to take pause and look back and celebrate.”

Volunteer for College Day

SJSU faculty, staff, students and alumni are invited to participate in College Day 2015, on Friday, Oct. 9. The theme this year is “Reach Higher. Own Your Future!”

College day is a community-wide initiative that celebrates, promotes and inspires college aspirations among all students in Santa Clara County, coordinated through SJSU’s CommUniverCity. Volunteers will serve as mentors to students and will be asked to spend one hour in a classroom on Oct. 9 to talk about their college experiences.

CommUniverCity has provided some talking points and activity ideas for those who want to volunteer but need support in developing their one-hour talk.

Those interested in supporting College Day as a mentor can sign up online via a google form. The form allows volunteers to select the grade level with which they would like to work, the time they are available on Oct. 9, and the region of Santa Clara County they prefer to visit.

SJSU community members can also support the initiative by making a donation to College Day 2015.