Student Life & Leadership Example

October 2018

Section 1

October 2018 - Nicole Balbuena

An image of Nicole Balbuena, October 2018 Spotlight winner.

Name: Nicole Balbuena
Year: 5th
Major: Sociology, Political Science, Chicano/Latino Studies
Hometown: Santa Ana, CA

Involvements at UCI:

2nd Year Transfer Experience Program (Oct 2018 - Present), CALPIRG Students (Jan 2018 - Present), Campuswide Honors Program (Mar 2017 - Aug 2017), Chi Alpha Epsilon (Sep 2017 - Present), Jumpstartat UCI (Oct 2018 - Present), Pre-Law Society (Sep 2016 - Jan 2018), Present), President and Founder of Healthy Emotions and Attitudes in Relationships Today (Mar 2017, President and Founder of Natural High (Mar 2017 - Present), Student Achievement Guided by Experience Scholarship Program (Jan 2017 - Present), Summer Academic Enrichment Program (Jun 2018 - Present), Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (Jun 2018 - Present), UndergraduateResearcher for Chicano/Latino Studies Honors Program (Sep2018 - Present), Vice President and Founder of Anti-Bullying Campaign for Orange County Youth (Sep2018 - Present)

What are three words to describe yourself?

Resilient, empowering, and activator. I am a domestic violence survivor and went through a lot during those five years, starting from the age of 15. In spite of the emotional and physical obstacles that I faced, I was able to overcome them by being an activist and spreading awareness about domestic violence, especially to the youth. Through my education I empowered myself to get to this point of higher education, taking three majors and starting three student organizations on campus. I empower myself but also empower others to be resilient and to be an advocate for themselves.

How have you grown as a leader during your time at UCI?

I’ve grown as a leader by joining leadership programs such as SAGE Scholars, or “Student Achievement Guided by Experience,” at UCI. They gave me leadership skills and enabled me to network with professors such as Dr. Valdez, Dr. Enriquez, and Dr. Flores - all three of them playing a major role in my leadership and academic development at UCI. With the help of Dr. Valdez’s guidance and connections, I started the Health Emotions and Attitudes in Relationships Today (HEART) program at UCI. I worked closely with the founders of after school programs as well as nonprofit organizations, and soon they became my mentors that I looked up to for their skills and knowledge in leadership.

What are you passionate about? Do you see yourself doing something with this passion in the future?

After I graduate, I plan on applying to Ph.D. programs in sociology and social work, depending on which universities I get accepted to. Unfortunately, UCI does not have a program in social work, so, for now, I plan on applying to UC Berkeley and USC. Afterwards, I plan on applying for a government job in Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, to gain experience as a social worker, specifically with neglected and abused children and at-risk youth. Once I gain experience, I want to start my own nonprofit organization and work closely with domestic violence victims as well as at-risk youth in order to promote social change and policy.

Who motivated you during college?

Despite the fact that they were not able to get education in the United States, my parents always encouraged me to do more than just high school. I was this close to not doing a third major, but my dad told me, “You’re capable of doing this. I know you have the strength to pick up a third major because you’ve already finished two.” Even though they cannot provide full financial support, they provide emotional support. They’re the main people in my life that encourage me to pursue what I’m doing now. I volunteer at four to five different nonprofit organizations, I have a job, I have three majors, and do other things around campus, but because of them, I can do all of it.
On top of that, the three professors I mentioned earlier have always encouraged me. I was so close to not picking up the Chicano/Latino Studies major, but Professor Enriquez and Professor DeSipio motivated me to do so. Professor Enriquez also inspired me to do the honors program in Chicano/Latino Studies, so I appreciate them for that as well.

What is your favorite memory at UCI?

I’m a transfer student and commuter, so I felt really isolated at one point, so I guess it’s just meeting new people! Initially, I thought I was just going to finish up my political science major and leave, but after meeting professors and peers through student organizations, I felt more connected with the campus. Dr. Valdez became a father figure to me at UCI not only because of his immense support and mentorship but because he encouraged me to get more involved on and off campus. As I started recruiting members for my organizations and applying to programs such as the Diversity Student Empowerment Program and the Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP), I began to realize that I had friends and faculty here that made me feel at home.

Tell us about a time that you failed. How did you deal with this failure?

I applied to the Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, where participants propose a year-long project, called “Cross-Cultural Health and Individual Learning Development” (C.H.I.L.D.). I made my proposal based on my student organization, targeting at-risk youth, and eventually made it to the top three finalists. PTSD and anxiety is something I struggle with, so when my proposal did not come out the way I expected it to during my interview, I got really nervous, couldn’t think straight, and stumbled my words. When I received the news that I did not get the scholarship, I felt like a failure. However, my friends, family, and UCI professors reassured me that making it that far was a success rather than a failure and that I should be proud of myself. Although I did not receive the grant, the support I received helped me pursue my project.

If you could drop all of your responsibilities for a day and do anything with this free time, what would you do?

I hardly see my family because we are always busy doing other things, so it would be to spend more time with them. I would like to have dinner with my family and devote my entire time to them. I want to spend it with my doggy too because I love my dog!