- MELANI L. SOTO
My transformational educational journey and the privilege of higher education
My mother, Lucilina Sequerra, migrated from the Philippines to the United States when she was 19. She attended community college and transferred to San Diego State University (SDSU). Even though she graduated college, she did not have the privilege to network or benefit from her degree. She struggled to adjust to life as a single parent raising two daughters — myself and my sister Jenniffer.
We were a low-income family living in National City, a diverse neighborhood representative of Chicano, Black, and Pinoy identities. Drug addiction and gang violence, an outcome of poverty and historical marginalization, devastated many people in our community. But my mom never wavered in her belief that college would help me build a better life.
I attended community college at San Diego City College and socialized with fifteen friends who aspired to transfer to a four-year university. Only three of us successfully made this transfer because many did not have the support or resources to thrive. I reflected on the paralleled lives my mom and I lived and did not want to live life, barely making ends meet. I wanted to make my mom proud and someday be able to give her and my family a life that was easier than what my sister and I experienced.
Within two years, I graduated with an associate's degree and transferred to SDSU. I discovered my passion for helping students break trends of inner-city poverty cycles and was grateful to influence their lives positively. I participated in the Faculty-Student Mentoring Program (FSMP) and became a university student mentor for freshman and transfer students, connecting students to networking opportunities and campus resources.
Everything changed during my sophomore year of college. My mother was diagnosed with cancer, became terminally ill my senior year, and died a month before graduation. I wanted to give up, but FSMP and my mother always reminded me how important education was, helped me stay anchored, and encouraged me to finish my degree. I am proud that I persisted and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Child and Family Development in 2004.
My journey at SDSU continued when I began working as a high school academic adviser for TRIO Program Talent Search. I was accepted into the Community Based Blocked Program and, in May 2010, graduated with a master's degree grounded in social justice education. During this time, I recognized my own self-efficacy as a capable, ethical, authentic, competent multicultural counselor, educator, and advocator.
Cultivating a welcoming, loving, and inclusive campus environment for students is deeply personal to me. I am committed to ensuring underserved populations are represented in spaces of higher education and recognize that cultural trends, diversity, and learning abilities contribute to student success. Obtaining an education is a privilege and has empowered me to advocate for equitable educational spaces for underrepresented students that foster transformational change.
I owe everything to my Pamiliya — my husband Kyle, two boys, Aj and Juju, sister Jen, and my Nanay for helping me thrive. I miss you Nanay and miss you every day. Mahal kita sa nanay ko!