Q&A with Alfredo Reyes, Education PhD Student

The graduate student reflects on his research interests in Education, his path to graduate school, and plans for the future.

May 25, 2018

Alfredo Reyes

Alfredo Reyes is a second year PhD student in Education.

What are your research interests?

My research interests emerge out of the intersections of education, politics, and organizational learning. In graduate school, these have taken two distinct trajectories: I seek to understand how youth-led action research project can inform the implementation of education policy across complex social systems and organizations; and I explore definitions and practices of citizenship conceived within alternative and pluri-cultural worldviews.

Before you came to the graduate program, what other experiences did you have with higher education? And when did you know you wanted (or needed) to go to graduate school?

Before coming to graduate school at UCSC, I lived in Philadelphia, where I was responsible for developing strategic partnerships throughout the city for a non-profit that supported adult learners who started college but did not finish. In addition, I advised clients on matters spanning how to secure financial aid to academic tutoring. Prior to that, I was a college advisor at my community high school in Denver as I worked through my master’s degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which culminated in convening a group of leaders in art, education, and business to establish a Latino cultural arts center.  

While in Denver, I also volunteered for two foundations as a member of their grant-making committees in the areas of education. During this time, I began to learn about the role and impact of philanthropy in community development, which can be both positive and negative. It was here that I learned that powerful things happen when you invest in the ideas of young people; when they are empowered with the resources to tackle issues they are passionate about. 

I first understood that I needed a graduate degree three-months after my graduation from Colorado College at my first job. Within the classroom, I was challenged to ask difficult questions and supported with the mentorship to grow. In a large bureaucracy, I soon learned that posing big questions could unsettle established patterns and lead to being sidelined. Looking back, my academic and professional trajectory along higher education has been one of access and disruption.

Ultimately, it was from my parents that I learned that higher education could bring legitimacy and power to our lived experiences as an immigrant family, and millions of others. Despite being part of the economic backbone of the US, and literally building and cleaning the city with their hands, my mom and dad would tell me of how they felt invisible. How could that be?

How did you arrive at your research interest(s)?

In some ways, I arrived at my research interests when I was born into an immigrant Mexican family in Denver, Colorado. Some of my earliest memories involve thinking of the world as a place of endless possibilities extending far beyond the neighborhood and the city. While riding my bike with friends, I remember challenging myself to go further into the unknown by stretching the limits of where I had been and of what I knew. Every day I would push myself to go a block further and further. At the time though I didn’t think of these experiences as “research interests.”

It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school. After being dissuaded from attending the neighborhood school by my older sister, I opted to attend a school across the city, where you can meet students enrolled from over 60+ countries and who spoke 40+ different languages on any given day. It was during this time that I became interested in understanding how the historical, political, and cultural dynamics that brought my peers and I together in one building also structured the meanings, relations, and practices inside our classroom and outside.

Next, I moved to Colorado Springs to pursue my liberal arts degree, where I had the opportunity to deeply engage with social and political theories in a way that was situated within broader understandings of the natural world – and traveling. I took advantage of every opportunity to study abroad and spent time in Spain, Italy, and Chile, which reaffirmed my commitment to situating my thinking and learning within scales that shifted from the individual and social, to the international, national, and the local.

Why did you decide to come to UCSC for your graduate education?

I decided to attend UCSC to study with my advisor, Dr. Cindy Cruz. As I researched various programs, Dr. Cruz was by far the most responsive and creative. Living by the beach also helped.

What do you like the most about being a graduate student?

I really enjoy being a part of the graduate community that the Graduate Student Commons has brought together. After a month of hard work, First-Friday’s is a welcomed opportunity to connect with friends across departments.

I would like to see more opportunities to be trained in various disciplinary methods and professional skills with graduate students outside the social sciences. Recently, I had a great time in the leadership program offered by the graduate division and made a lot of new friends. I frequently come across other amazing fellowships or certification programs but there are only spots for five participants. There has to be a better way of sharing this invaluable information with more graduate students. It could be as simple as sharing the handouts or recording guest lectures or having a blog about what participants are learning and ways to also engage with the material.

Do you have any specific aspirations for post-graduate school life?

After earning my PhD, I would like to return to philanthropy or pursue a career in government as a consultant. I am interested in leveraging my degree to travel the world working to close the distance between policy-decision makers and the communities directly impacted by an issue.