About the FIERCE Student Fellowship
The FIERCE (Fighting for Innovation and Equitable Recovery in College Education) Student Fellowship is a leadership development opportunity for undergraduate community college and university students attending California public institutions. Building on The Education Trust—West’s Momentum: A Policy Agenda for Accelerating Racial Equity in California’s Education Systems in 2022, the goal of the Fellowship is to support student advocates as they promote policies and practices that push for equity at their campuses and across the state. Throughout the program, Fellows will engage with researchers, policymakers, and advocates in the field to learn more about pressing policy issues in higher education and contribute their own perspectives.
The FIERCE Fellowship is a continuation of Ed Trust—West’s commitment to uplifting student voices to inform research and advocacy, and is rooted in four guiding principles:
Meet the FIERCE Fellows
The 2023 FIERCE Fellows are a group of 10 college and university students from across the state representing community colleges, CSUs, and UCs. They are passionate about bringing educational justice to their campuses. Check out their bios below, and please watch this site for updates about the projects they will be working on this year!
PASADENA CITY COLLEGE
Ranneme Abu-Hajar (she/her/hers) is a first-generation, Palestinian American Muslim whose passion for advocacy stems from her upbringing and the passion of her role models. Her identity as a Palestinian American Muslim has made her acutely aware of the way her family was treated throughout her childhood, including how others perceived them based on how Muslims and Middle Easterners were depicted in the news. Growing up, she felt that her ethnic and religious identity made her an outsider whose opinion was not needed at the table. The passion and inspiration that pushed her to carry on were deepened when seeing the experiences of Syrian refugees who were in the same situation as her family members overseas as well as her exposure to African American history and activism through the autobiographies of Malcolm X and Alex Haley. These two instances have laid the foundation for her interest to work in public policy, as well as in international development so that she can help rebuild communities destroyed by war. Ranneme is a second-year student at Pasadena City College where she plans to transfer to a four-year university and earn her bachelor’s degree.
MADERA COMMUNITY COLLEGE
Alaia Al-sabur (she/her/hers) has always been a student at heart; a curious little thing, drawn to understand all the things around her. She was born and raised in the heart of California, the San Joaquin Valley. Despite seeming like nothing more than miles and miles of unending farmland, the San Joaquin Valley is full of beautiful things to be discovered. Her belief is that the current education system must take care to ensure they aren’t overlooking valuable intellectuals due to outward circumstances. Education is the key to opening the doors of possibility where educators must take a vested interest in the diamonds that may lie beneath the surface of a student ravaged by circumstance. In doing so, they may uncover a world of beauty “where formerly only jackrabbits and antelope play.”* Currently, Alaia is a first-year student at Madera Community College.
*Quote taken from https://www.madera.gov/home/our-community/welcome-to-madera/
Xitlali Cisneros (she/her/hers) was born and raised in the remarkable city of San Bernardino. Xitlali is a first-generation student and a mother to a beautiful two-year-old boy. Aside from being a full-time student, she works at SBCUSD (San Bernardino City Unified School District) with the ATLAS department, where they serve and assist the homeless and foster families of the school district. Xitlali is a future educator whose passion goes beyond just teaching children. Growing up in a diverse and poverty-stricken city, she experienced the flaws of our education system. Because of this, she knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in education to make a difference in her community. Being a mother and a transfer student, to others she is considered a “non-traditional” student. Throughout her college experience, she has learned that it is easy for students that have similar perspectives as she does, to be overlooked. So, Xitlali works hard, not only for herself and her son, but also for others who have similar experiences and realities, that way they no longer feel overlooked, but acknowledged and appreciated. Xitlali strongly believes that through this fellowship, she can learn to proudly serve her community. She currently attends the University of California, Riverside majoring in Education and Liberal Studies.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Paula Escobar (she/her/hers) is a passionate student driven to uplift youth voices in her community through empowerment and advocacy. Learning from her mother and older sister, she carries forward the values of education, dignity, and perseverance. During her time on the Student Governing Board at the East Side Union High School District, Paula promoted racial equity and provided space for students to have their perspectives heard. Recently, Paula organized alongside her peers to support the passage of a mandatory ethnic studies course to align new standards that promote critical thinking and culturally competent discussions on pressing race and gender issues. As a woman of color, Paula strongly values her Bolivian heritage and roots and wants her peers to be properly represented in school curriculums. Paula was also a youth commissioner on the Santa Clara Juvenile Justice Commission and interned with the National Center for Youth Law. Here, she worked alongside other advocates to create reports and champion needed services for youth in the justice system. Being a first-generation student, Paula knows the struggles her family went through to pave new pathways and pursue higher education. Paula plans on continuing her work as a lawyer to achieve systematic policy changes in education that help alleviate long-standing issues of inequity across the system.
Jenn Galinato (she/her/hers) is a fierce community advocate from Sacramento. As the daughter of two immigrants, she is a proud byproduct of both the California K-12 and community college systems, where her interest in political activism and advocacy began. Formerly a student at Sacramento City College, she faced barriers and challenges before transferring to her current college and saw that she wasn’t the only one who faced these problems in their journey to higher education. In her leadership roles, she served as a trailblazer to ensure equitable access to higher education, especially within California’s community college system, where she tackled a variety of issues such as basic needs, financial aid/Cal Grant reform/debt-free college, menstrual equity, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) work to close equity gaps. She hopes to accomplish one goal within her role as a fellow: to empower fellow students in all communities and ensure higher education is accessible for all. Currently, Jenn is a student at Sacramento State, where she is majoring in political science and journalism.
CSU SAN JOSE
Gabi (she/her/hers) currently works at Oasis for Girls, a nonprofit rooted in empowering and providing space for high school girls of color from underserved communities across San Francisco. Prior to working at Oasis, Gabi worked at an immigration nonprofit doing education and advocacy work around the 2021 Redistricting process. She is excited to be back in the education space, working with young girls of color to realize their hopes and dreams in whatever way that means to them. In the past, Gabi also worked with students and families as a student success coach and after-school program leader at City Year Los Angeles and San José, where she was able to be a part of teams and a school community that further solidified her desire to contribute to creating a more equitable and accessible education space for students and families. Gabi is inspired by the quote by Yuri Kochiyama, which states “Our ultimate objective in learning is to try and create a more just society that we have seen.” In addition, she is informed by her personal identities, both privileged and marginalized, to create a “more just society” for her own and other marginalized communities. Gabi looks forward to learning with and from others who are invested in equitable education. She is currently finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Sociology at San José State.
Mimi Hoang (she/her/hers) is a first-generation Vietnamese American and a rising sophomore at Chabot College. She comes from a family of seven, the second oldest of five siblings, and will be the first in her family to transfer and attend a four-year institution. Before her transfer to Chabot, she was a student-athlete at Southern Oregon University participating in women’s wrestling. Moving back to California presented her with the opportunity to dedicate herself to her major and experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to participate in politics. One of her proudest accomplishments has been working with Senator Nancy Skinner’s office and collaborating with the California Legislative Women’s Caucus on a research project. Throughout her time at the Capitol, Mimi learned a lot about what it takes to be the change and the voice for the less fortunate. Mimi learned how to make an impact from the inside out and is more driven than ever to help low-income families such as her own. This research project has also made her realize how important the representation of women within politics is and is yet another reason why she is working towards her goal of becoming a legislator. She is currently majoring in Political Science with a minor in Communications.
Brayan Ramos (he/him/his) is a first-generation, rising third-year student from South Sacramento, attending the University of California, Berkeley. He was raised by (then) undocumented immigrants from Michoacán, Mexico who instilled in him the idea that education was a means of liberation and self-fulfillment. Having heard his parents, and family at large, detail stories of their inability to pursue education past elementary school, Brayan understands the privilege he holds in having the ability to pursue higher education and thus has become a fierce advocate for those marginalized in academia. In an effort to improve the conditions of low-income schools and provide adequate learning space, Brayan advocated for the funding of new infrastructure for the students at Will C. Wood Middle School while being a part of the Grants Advisory Board for the Youth with the City of Sacramento. At UC Berkeley, he is a part of many communities on campus such as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), Lothlorien Berkeley Student Co-Op, and the NavCal Fellowship. After his time in undergraduate school, Brayan hopes to attend law school and focus on the plight of immigrants from Central and South America. Wherever life takes him after his time at Berkeley, Brayan will continue to fight for marginalized communities like his! Brayan is currently majoring in Pre-Law History and minoring in Public Policy.
CAL POLY SLO
Cristian Ulisses Reyes (he/him/él) is a first-generation student from McFarland, California, and identifies as a Queer Chicano. He is a third year at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Child Development with minors in Ethnic Studies and Psychology. Cristian is passionate about mental health advocacy and education equity. After completing his undergraduate degree, he plans to pursue a master’s degree and work in the behavioral and/or emotional therapy field. He is also considering going into the field of public policy where he can serve as an advocate on issues that are important to his community. Cristian has been extremely involved with cultural organizations on campus, such as Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan, and Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. He has also worked as a communications assistant and as a program assistant for Cal Poly Scholars, as well as a student assistant for the Orfalea Family & ASI Children’s Center. Through these positions of leadership and employment, Cristian has worked hard to bring down barriers and foster an inclusive community for students on campus and in his community. In his spare time, Cristian enjoys traveling, exploring new places, cooking, watching Marvel movies, listening to Bad Bunny, Omar Apollo, and Steve Lacy, and hanging out with his friends.
CSU LONG BEACH
Kailyn Wilkerson (she/her/hers) is a fourth-year student at California State University, Long Beach, in the College of Liberal Arts, where she is pursuing a degree in Political Science (BA). She is currently the Founder of the Black Law Student Association, which has allowed her to contribute to the Black and African American community with the foremost concern of aiding the recruitment and admission of Black students into Law school and other areas. In her studies, Kailyn focuses on racial and ethnic politics while furthering her knowledge of the higher education system with the help of mentors and staff at her institution. Her interest in Political Science stems from her goal to combat discrepancies and inequities and support Black and African American students like herself. Ms. Wilkerson has worked as the Assistant Coordinator for the Umoja Community Program for the past year and a half, specializing in the academic retention and success rate of Black and African students by providing resources and services throughout their academic journey. Upon completion of her undergraduate studies, she is on the doctoral track or plans to apply for graduate school to further her knowledge in Urban Schooling and higher education, progressing toward a career as a Dean/Director in higher education over student equity and inclusion.