Boston-based non-profit organization, Campus Compact, recently announced its 2018 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows. This organization, which works to advance the public purposes of higher education, selected 268 students from around the country, including the UHD’s very own Mariana Grijalva, to participate in a program that emphasizes personal, professional and civic growth.
The Newman Civic Fellowship is a yearlong program that recognizes and supports community-engaged students who have demonstrated an investment in resolving challenges facing underserved communities. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
As a Newman Fellow, Grijalva plans to focus on raising awareness about environmental hazards in immigrant communities by working with UHD’s Sustainability Coordinator, who interacts with the University community to provide knowledge, skills and motivation to integrate sustainability into strategic planning, and student-directed activities of the college. Grijalva also has in the works a partnership with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, in addition to a documentary to be filmed in the East End of Downtown that focuses on air pollution affecting low-income areas.
Grijalva’s other advocacy work will center on on-campus fundraising for Syrian refugees. Proceeds benefit the International Rescue Committee.
“It feels great to be chosen for the Newman Civic Fellowship because I get to represent women, women of color, Muslim women and UHD,” Grijalva said. “UHD needs to be recognized more because it does so much for the community and for students.”
The Houston native was born to immigrant parents and is in her junior year majoring in accounting with a minor in criminal justice. She has an anticipated graduation date of May 2019. Grijalva is also a first-generation college student and the second in her family to attend UHD, after her older sister.
“A lot of this I do is for my parents because as far as I can remember, since I was little, they worked a lot,” Grijalva said. “So for me, it’s important to make them proud. That’s my number one job to do.”
From high school, Grijalva has been active in civic engagement and through her participation in the organization Mi Familia Vota, she developed a passion for immigrant rights and advocacy work. She carried this passion with her to UHD where she began to cultivate her leadership skills through participating in both UHD’s University Honors Program and the Emerging Latino Leaders Institute. This soon led to her involvement with United We Dream, the largest youth-led immigrant network. Her attendance at their annual conference in Washington, D.C. led to a realization of the struggles immigrants face nationwide and only caused her need to give back to grow.
In fall 2017, Grijalva founded, Gator Courage, a student organization at UHD which aims to connect students with social justice issues in their community. There, she wasted no time organizing students to tackle the organization’s first initiative—protesting the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under her leadership, students participated in a national walkout to illustrate the national reliance on immigrants.
Grijalva has also had the privilege to study abroad through the University’s Study Abroad Program. Last summer, she traveled with Honors students to Sweden and Finland to study and observe each country’s education systems. She also has plans to visit Morocco this summer to study Arabic.
“Studying abroad really helps me understand other perspectives and other ways of life,” Grijalva stated. “I love to learn about different people and different ideas. I think it helps with bridging gaps and eliminating different stereotypes. At the end of the day, we are all people and it’s good to come together.”
Through her advocacy and civic engagement, Grijalva has turned her time at UHD into a major opportunity to help others and give back to her community. She embodies Gator Courage.
“It’s an honor for UHD, a Carnegie Foundation-recognized institution in Community Engagement, to have a Newman Fellow,” said Dr. Poonam Gulati, director of the Quality Enhancement Plan and the Community Engagement & Service Learning Center. “This fellowship recognizes the work of community-committed students and supports their efforts to find solutions for community issues. Mariana makes us proud with her passion and dedication to work towards a more equitable society.”