UCLAN is proud to have committed volunteers working hard to make the group a success. Here we profile some of our most active members.
Gabriel: Why did you want to become involved with UCLAN?
Sara: We have really great alumni base and I think it’s important for the group to look after each other. Whether it's on the professional side of things or the personal side, where people can say "Hey I’m new to the city and I want to connect with people that I have an immediate association with." That's what it's all about. Events are cool and fun, but I really think it's about celebrating successes, making introductions and being proud that we’re from the University of Chicago. We've got people in sports, in entertainment, in government, in business; it's a great group of people for us to be aware of and connect with and learn from. For me, that’s my purpose for being so active with the group, and why I want other people to be just as active.
Gabriel: Where do you see UCLAN going in the next few years?
Sara: I'd like this group to be a tremendous resource for alumni. This can be the first stop if you have a question about a new position, or doing research on a certain topic. I want this group to be robust in terms of numbers and activities, and to be good about communicating and making introductions. You may not know the person, but if you reach out to someone that has a University of Chicago affiliation, I hope they will always respond. I want us to be as responsive and loyal as possible to each other.
Gabriel: Were you active in any of the Latino cultural groups on campus?
Sara: Growing up in Little Village in Chicago, which is predominantly Mexican, when I went to the U of C it was a complete culture shock! I remember being in Soc. class and the professor asked what percentage of population is Hispanic? Is African American? My numbers were way, way off! I thought we had to be 30% Hispanic, and 30% African American, just based on the environment grew up in. I never really thought about culture and identity growing up. When I got to the University of Chicago I did. I needed to be more a little more comfortable while on campus, and I wanted to connect with people I feIt I could relate to so I immediately gravitated to Hispanic Association for Cultural Expression and Recognition (HACER). I think it’s now called OLAS. I was pretty active and signed up for all the activities. Many of my best friends came from the group; that was a really important support network for me, academically and socially. We would take classes together and share notes and then on Friday, Saturday night we would do to a place called Tropicana and go dancing!
The other group I was involved in was a sorority we reactivated, Sigma Lambda Gamma. We felt that HACER was becoming a little too political. The sentiment on campus was everyone felt they needed a MeCha or a Puerto Rican Student Alliance, and I felt our community was getting too fragmented. I wanted a place where I could connect with my girlfriends and we formed Sigma Lambda Gamma, to step back and unite on a social and personal level.
Gabriel: How does your Latin identity inform your life today?
Sara: It's actually carried over into my professional career. The most meaningful position I've had so far is working with sponsors of Major League Soccer and the Mexican national team who are looking to connect to the Hispanic market. It was incredibly important to the hiring manager that I came from Little Village; which was a complete shock to me. I never thought I would get a job based on my neighborhood! I remember having a phone interview with my boss and on my resume I didn't have anything affiliating me with the city of Chicago other than the U of C. The very first thing he said was "I see you went to the University of Chicago. Great School." And I said, "Oh my gosh, you've heard of it?” UIC was right there and you know how we sometimes have an inferiority complex... He asked, "Are you from Chicago?" and wanted to know where I was from. Now I'm thinking: "Who is this guy to get so deep into my background??" But I answered and mentioned Little Village. He immediately replied: "We need you to come in for an interview tomorrow." After an intimidating interview in Spanish, I got the job and it was great being able to work with other professional Hispanics in a really cool environment.
Gabriel: Are you currently involved with any other Chicago affinity or alumni groups?
Sara: For two years I worked with the University of Chicago in alumni relations. That's how I got to see how many noteworthy and cool alumni we have. And that's why I think we should promote and look out for each other because there are so many talented people here. But we're a humble bunch, so we keep it quiet. And that's fine, but now you have friends in UCLAN who can showcase and show off your talents for you!
Before I got the job at UChicago handling alumni relations on the east coast, I was a volunteer in Boston organizing and attending events, and the University was looking for somebody to work full time alumni relations. I figured since I did this for fun, why not get paid for it! I'm still connected to the groups on the East Coast and made some good friends who I didn't know in college, but who I met through the alumni relations jobs. It's an awesome group of people!
Gabriel: How do you keep in contact with the alumni community today?
Sara: Definitely Linkedin; it's fun to find UChicago alumni in interesting industries. Also, I use Twitter and follow the @UChicago handle to keep up with news and see if there is anything happening locally, not necessarily with Latino alumni but the alumni community as a whole. I’ve learned that’s is important and rewarding to meet people outside your cultural, geographic, and professional zones.
Gabriel: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sara: Again, use UCLAN as a resource, personally and professionally. If anyone ever wants to get in touch with me, I promise to respond! Being available is important as we’re trying to build a real network apart from Facebook where people care about each other. I’d also like our group to connect more with undergraduates – I was clueless and didn’t think about tapping into our alumni back then. Using our wealth of experiences, we can positively influence younger generations of alumni. I probably sound warm and fuzzy but that’s how I feel about building a strong alumni community.