Sunday, April 24, 2022


The Journal of Transformative Learning just published a piece that nine Freshman Inquiry students (Raya, Arina, Kenyn, Daira, Jennifer, Estefani, Han, Brianna, and Tony) and our Peer Mentor (Laihha) and I co-wrote based on our class!

It is a very short piece but one we all enjoyed working on very much. "'Like a Family'" describes how we strove to create an environment where people from very diverse backgrounds, in a class in which nearly everyone was from an immigrant family, eventually felt seen and welcome and at home. Many of the students felt much like Jennifer at the beginning of our first class that fall day in 2019: "I was so nervous that I wanted to leave." But as we sat and listened to and got to know each other, magical things happened.

Here is the link:

Monday, November 15, 2021

"Barriers and Passion," by Aline Alvarez

I never really imagined I would be where I am today. I grew up in a home where right off the bat I was destined to be a statistic. Single-parent household, father in prison, immigrant family, Latina, first-generation American, English language learner, the list could go on. This is very common in my culture as many Latinx youth carry the weight of so many circumstances, many of which they cannot avoid or control. It's frustrating to think that because we grow up like this, the world already uses these circumstances as barriers towards our success. Because of this, we grow up with the mindset that we have to work ten times harder than our peers who don't share the same circumstances. Who don't share the same “barriers.” Very early on, I knew I wanted to show that my culture is more than just a statistic and we are capable of accomplishing pretty much anything despite what we go through at home.

Throughout high school, I was a very introverted person. You wouldn't catch me at any homecoming games or dances, you would probably find me at home watching reruns of CSI: New York or working. I kept to myself and had a close knit group of friends. I got great grades. Not because I wanted to, but more because my Mom refused to let me or my sister fall into this pot of statistics. And also because my Mom truly scared me at the time and I knew if I had a failing grade, I would come home to the infamous chancla and the very common Mexican mom lecture where she would explain all of the sacrifices she has made for me and my sister. At 14, I was expected to work and contribute what I could at home. Growing up in a single-parent household, my mom alone could not provide for us on her own so both my sister and I had to take on the role of provider alongside my mom. I had to grow up fast, again not because I wanted to, but because I had to survive and support my family. From fast food jobs, retail, babysitting, and even selling tamales as a side hustle, whatever income I could bring into the household was crucial to whether we would have enough money to keep the heat and lights on. Like many Latinx youth in the same position, we dream of one day earning enough money to move our families out of the struggle and poverty we so commonly face. We dream about taking care of our parents so that they don't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to work a crappy minimum wage job where they work away the rest of their lives. Not the American dream but the Latinx dream.

I took advantage of the fact that I was already busy working by also piling up volunteer hours. I figured by doing this, I could network and in my high school mind, these programs would all of a sudden hire a little 16-year-old as their CEO (I know, I had big dreams). I knew realistically that wasn't going to happen, so I had to keep doing what I was doing to eventually get there. Over time, I lost track of everything I was involved in. It became apparent that it wasn't about my dream any more and more about my passion. I loved working with people and helping people. This has been a huge reason why I have always been involved in service work or more specifically service work in our educational system. Student life and environment is crucial to a person's development, career, and overall future. With programs such as SUN, Latino Network, and IRCO, they are able to target school environments and provide extended services for students with backgrounds similar to mine. I think that's why I kind of felt at home when I would volunteer with them because they understood the eager goals of a Latinx teen just trying to survive. 

This brings me to where I am today and what I do. My senior year of high school, I applied to many universities. A majority of them accepted me without hesitation, which was great until you saw the cost of tuition, fees, books, all that “fun” stuff. I decided Portland State University was what would work best for me and it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being a first-generation student, I went into college pretty clueless and scared. I didn't have anyone to help or guide me so I am appreciative that I was able to find my niche at the Multicultural Center and my FRINQ class with professor David Peterson Del Mar. While in college, I started to take the risk of actually applying for these student-life careers. Of course, rejection was common. I was still pretty young to be in this type of field as many districts and programs wanted paid experience, a master’s or bachelor's degree, certifications, etc. I still took the risk and rejection and kept applying. Eventually, I ended up getting hired with Volunteers of America as an after-school program coordinator. This job gave me the experience I needed to then move on to my next career which was with Portland Public Schools. I was a Family Service Worker with the Head Start program which focused a lot on aspects of social work and family and student resources. This journey of course wasn't easy. I wouldn't say I was the best employee and I did perfect in my field because I didn't. It was a very big trial and error process for me as I was still learning so much and was also juggling my last two years of college. What kept me going was the people I was helping in the process. The passion.

With both of these experiences I learned a lot about myself and what my purpose was. I was nearing my last year at PSU so I really had to reflect on what I wanted to do after I am done. I received a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice and knew I wanted to continue working with youth. My end goal is to work with youth who have been put in a system already set up to fail them. Youth that could not overcome their “barriers.” By starting in the school system, we are able to help these youth before they are put into the correctional system. By being that mentor, role model, or friend, it can come a long way and make just enough impact in their lives and futures. I now work with David Douglas High School as a Bilingual after-school coordinator where I focus on the Latinx student population. A lot of the Latinx student population is very underrepresented and underestimated. I run an after-school club Monday-Thursday where Latinx students can come in to do homework, connect with other Latinx peers, and learn about the overall Latinx culture.

I didn't really know what direction I wanted to go with when it came to writing this blog post, I just wanted to assure readers that regardless of your background, anything is possible if you take the risk of doing it. I am the product of that as well as the many students I have worked with. The strength and resilience this new generation has had is incredible and I am thankful to be working with them as they teach me new things every day. I didn't let these so-called barriers in my life stop me and I encourage you to do the same. Some days might be good and some days might be bad, no like, really bad, but trust me, it will get better and you will succeed.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

"Who We Are" Published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning


I never listened very closely to my students at PSU until I started teaching Freshman Inquiry courses four years ago. What those students had to say startled and moved me. I quickly decided that teaching them was far more important than researching and writing another book and that listening to them should become a central feature of my teaching.

Neera and Vicki are two friends and colleagues in University Studies who have modeled that way of teaching to me, and two years ago we started listening together with three students, Yarina, Ceci, and Jasmine (a pseudonym) about their journeys to and at Portland State and exploring how we might amplify their voices.

I'm delighted to report that Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning just published the stories of Yarina, Ceci, and Jasmine.

Their stories are compelling. At the age of six Ceci demanded that her father 'buy me a small chalkboard because I wanted to become his English teacher." Now, a junior at PSU, she is determined "to be that lawyer my brother did not have." Yarina's path to and through PSU was especially difficult: "I'm the first in my family to attend college, a brown, gang-affiliated youth who found her way here, alone." She graduated a year ago and is preparing to apply to law school.

If you would like to read their stories, please access the current issue of Change through your library if it subscribes to the periodical, or go here, to my (limited number) of free downloads.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

"Not Your Model Minority," By Andrea Luong


When Professor David asked me to write a blog post about a lesson I have learned about life, I truly asked myself what does a 20-year-old has to offer to others around me? Let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Andrea and I come from a Vietnamese family. I am a recent graduate of Portland State University Class of 2021 from OHSU-PSU School of Public Health. I graduated high school early and now I graduated college in 3 years. My future career goal is to become a Physician Assistant with the ultimate goal of traveling and providing healthcare to rural areas around the world. These are the lines I often used to introduce myself to others. Countless times in my life have I had people assume or make little comments about me. Such as, “Oh, because you are Asian, you want to go into medicine” or “Because you are Asian and graduated early, you must be really smart and school comes easy for you.” I can tell you both of these assumptions are false.

I can say that I have been independent all of my life. My parents got divorced when I was seven years old, which pushed me into the role of taking care of my younger brother. When I was growing up, I was constantly surrounded by the Vietnamese language, which made learning English in school a little harder. When I reached high school, I constantly felt that every year was a struggle, both academically and socially. I was working as a waitress at the age of 15. I always felt more mature than my high school peers. Knowing that I was graduating early, this helped me thrive in my third year of high school. I was part of my high school first Girl’s Wrestling team. I started my own small business making earrings after discovering an interest from my advanced 3-D art class portfolio. I also have to give credit to my Art teacher who believed in me and supported me my last year in a way I never knew I needed. 

Then, it was time for college to begin. Coming into college at 17 was pretty scary. I had anxiety about my classes, the school work, and finding my way around PSU. Now looking back at my 3 years at PSU, I found what type of classes worked best for me. I began to take risks to apply for programs and jobs. I started to understand that some professors are there to support you and others may seem less supportive. I gained experiences working in healthcare, research, getting mentored support, mentoring others, and getting my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification while still taking college classes. Having these experiences during college made me realize that I wanted to be out in the real world gaining more experiences, hence why I was motivated to graduate college in 3 years. Even though I have around 50 cousins, 5 aunts, 10 uncles, and both of my parents with college degrees, no one in my family is in healthcare and finding people who were able to support me through my journey was so important. Through my journey, I had many people tell me that I should be enjoying my high school and college experiences and question why I am going so quickly. Let me tell you, I am the happiest I have ever been right now. I am currently in my gap year working as an EMT for a mobile urgent care company and making an impact in the lives I get to see and help. I also get to learn about each and every one of my patients' struggles and stories. I continue to learn and grow as a person. 

Looking back at my journey, I am proud of myself, even with all of their assumptions and my struggles. This is my journey. My biggest advice for others is to make your own journey and be proud of it. Never compare yourself to others because everyone has their own unique stories. No one can ever tell you who you should be or what your journey should look like. Along your journey, you will have people who will try to put you down, others who will support you, and you will be someone who inspires others. 

Follow your heart. Find your passions. Take risks. And accomplish your goals. You won't believe where it can take you and how it makes you feel.

Monday, September 27, 2021

"Everyone or No One": My Family's Journey, My Journey, By Diana Sanchez

I was born in Puebla, Mexico in 1998. Let’s go back a few years to how my family came to the U.S. My mother and father first met when they were just kids. They were actually neighbors who later on started dating when they got older. At age 16, my mother had my older sister, their lives changed completely. My mother moved in with my father's family and dropped out of school and my father no longer continued to pursue his career. In 1995, my second older sister was born. My father became financially unstable and he decided to go to the U.S because everyone said it was a better country to get a job. He endured some of the toughest situations while trying to come to the U.S. My father finally arrived in the USA for the very first time in 1996. Originally he planned to be living in the Midwest since he had a set employment there but the coyote (men or women who smuggle people into the U.S.) didn’t want to take him anywhere anymore. So another one of the men who was along with him offered him a place to stay and a secured job in Hillsboro, Oregon.

He didn’t last working for long in the U.S, he started missing his family and he came back to see my mother and my sisters. In 1997, my brother was born and again my father left to work again. By the time I was born in 1998, my parents decided to move to the U.S. for a couple of years just to make money to build a home in Mexico, except my father’s plan was to only bring me and my older brother, but my mom didn’t allow it, she said it was everyone or no one. When I arrived for the first time, I was only two months old and my siblings and parents endured again hard moments. The coyotes wouldn’t feed them, my sisters’ clothes ripped, they stole my mother’s bag which had all of the baby necessities.

Ever since 1998, we have never left this country, but we have all our family in Mexico. I have only had the pleasure to meet three uncles, two from my father’s side and one from my mother’s side. So it’s always just been me and my family. As an immigrant child, I have always wanted to compensate my parents for bringing us to the U.S to have a better life and education. They haven’t been able to see their parents for 22 years and they continue to stay here for us.

Except as a child I didn’t realize the difficulty it was going to be to continue my education and goals in life. In 2012, Obama changed the lives of many children like myself to obtain a work employment authorization card. I didn’t understand how this could possibly help us, but then the following year my oldest sister was going to graduate from high school. She wanted to be a pediatrician, and in order to do so you had to be a citizen and it hit me that I would have to work twice as hard to obtain my goals and dreams. Senior year came around for me, I struggled to sign up for scholarships that accepted DACA recipients. I wasn’t eligible for FASFA which continues to be a challenge in my life, I was only eligible for state aid, but when I was a senior it was the first time it became available to DACA students. So I wasn’t sure what to fill out and as much as my parents wanted to help they couldn’t because of the language barrier and without an understanding of how college really works. My siblings had begun college, but a lot had changed since they graduated so they couldn’t even help me either. I had been a part of this great program that helped me so much and to apply for schools, scholarships, and even my financial aid. Through all their help, I obtained to have my four years of undergrad paid for and further scholarships that paid for other parts of my education.

I just graduated in the Spring of 2021 in Public Health and minored in Criminal Justice/Criminology. I am now getting ready to begin my journey at the University of Washington for my Master’s degree in Public Policy & Governance. As an immigrant and a child of immigrant parents who came to the U.S with nothing, I can say anything is possible as long as you push forward to get where you want to be.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"Why Not Me?" By Isabella Maranghi

When asked to look back and speak about my past and the series of events that have occurred to bring me where I am today, I thought to myself “I can’t believe that I am doing this,” and then I immediately interrupted myself and thought “why not me”? 

It is a funny thing, success, it comes in all shapes, sizes, and amounts, and yet we are never really expecting it: at least I wasn’t. I grew up in a low-income, first-generation family with 3 brothers and sisters. Growing up, I had a very distinct role. I took care of my younger siblings, brought them to doctors, made sure they got to school, had clean clothes to wear, and got their schoolwork done. I was there for their meetings with teachers and school advisors. While spending my entire life taking care of my family, I never thought that I would be the one to go to school and make a whole other life for myself. Even the counselors at my high school doubted my ability to succeed in school.  One even told me that I wouldn’t do well in college because it is not meant for people like me. Part of that statement is true, higher education was not built or intended women, students from low-income families, or immigrant families, as well as many other people outside of that description. What the counselor failed to understand is that determination and a willingness to overcome struggle goes further than what is easy ever will. This counselor believed that because I fell outside the lines of their assumptions about who could be successful in college, I would fail. 

It would have been easy for me to accept my position and live the rest of my life without ever trying to be more than what others thought of me, but I didn’t. I chose what was hard. I chose to challenge the beliefs so many had about myself and those in the same shoes as me. Some of the challenge (if not most of it) came from myself and my own self-deprecating thoughts. There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it to graduation or even the next week of classes.  The journey I have been on has brought me immense amounts of challenges but also a great deal of pride.  In Italian we say, “nonostante tutto” which means “in spite of everything.” Think about that the next time you are feeling like you do not belong.  Think about the times you could have quit and did not, think about all the things you had to work though to be here. Be proud of where you have come from, how far you have gotten, and all the possibilities you still have.

I had to teach myself that I deserved to be at school, and I was capable to achieving all that I want in life. There is always a way to get there, and it is not a fair playing field, some will become successful with ease and others will find obstacle after obstacle. I want you to know that just because you might not fit in the categories of who succeeds does not mean you don’t deserve to. I urge you to ask yourself “why not me”?  when you feel like an imposter or like you don’t deserve to be here. List all the things you had to overcome just to be sitting in the classroom. You are incredible and you are deserving. 

  • Isabella graduated from Portland State University in 2021 and is entering the Graduate Program in Speech Pathology at Northern Arizona University.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Some Thoughts on Support (Upon Graduating from University), By Aineias Engstrom


    I’m not usually one to boast about my accomplishments, but I’m confident enough to say that I succeeded at Portland State. Not only did I meet many wonderful people who have had a meaningful impact on my life, but I also graduated summa cum laude and gained important professional experience by completing three internships in Portland. These achievements put me in a position to now move on to graduate school in Switzerland.

    I don’t mean to toot my own horn by calling my time as an undergraduate a success. I mean to set the scene to discuss an important realization I’m taking away from my three-and-a-half years at PSU. Namely, why I was able to succeed.

    I was able to succeed because I had a tremendously strong and dedicated support structure that helped me with every step along the way. My aunt, uncle, and grandparents here in Oregon; my parents from abroad; advisers, classmates, and professors in school itself. I felt supported by more people than I could have imagined during my time in Portland.

    Yes, I worked hard, I looked for internships, I was bright-eyed and eager to build relationships. I understood how to put the puzzle pieces together to succeed. But only because I was given the time and space to figure it out. I produced good work because I felt like people had my back and wanted me to succeed. I got internships because my family supported me financially, so I could work twenty hours a week without pay. And I became eager to build relationships because people’s kindness allowed me to overcome my social anxiety, at least on most days.

    Throughout my time as an undergraduate, I realized more and more the privilege of having such an extensive and committed support structure. I benefited tremendously from it, both materially (having my basic needs met) and emotionally (receiving affirmation for my hard work). But it also became clear to me that having such a support structure is not necessarily normal at PSU. Two of the smartest and most kind-hearted classmates I met as an undergraduate were forced to quit school because they could no longer pay tuition costs. Both of them also had troubled relationships with their families and couldn’t count on them for much support. And I encountered many more people who didn’t have the support structure they needed to overcome problems ranging from trauma and loneliness to food insecurity and houselessness.

     As somebody who was empowered by a strong support structure, my main message to readers is that we need to provide whatever support we can to each other, especially if we ourselves enjoy the privilege of support. There are many different means of support and each of us has something to contribute to somebody else’s well-being. I’ll be the first to say that I need to do more, but I’ve also come to realize that it isn’t a competition. Providing support starts with simple gestures like complimenting someone for a job well done or listening to them when they want to share something about their lives.

    While there are types of support that nobody should have to ask for (such as food or housing), it can also be important to overcome hesitation about asking for help when we need it. It can feel intimidating or even disempowering to ask for support. But oftentimes, people are willing to support us, they just don’t know exactly how – so we have to let them know. It’s true that I come from a privileged position in society that makes it relatively easy for me to overcome this hesitation. But I want to encourage everyone with access to a support structure to use it, to push past the hesitation. Because having a support structure can be so crucial for our success and our emotional and physical well-being. I believe we all need help and most of us also want to help others.