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Antonia Fabian: Education and Social Transformation Grad Plans to Pay it Forward

Member of the second Education and Social Transformation undergrad cohort to pursue master’s degree in SEIS’s Social Research Methodology division.

When an ebullient 27-year-old Antonia Fabian addressed her classmates on June 11 in Wilson Plaza as the representative from the Education and Social Transformation major, she had much to celebrate. A member of the second-ever cohort of this undergraduate program, she surprised her mother as one of the speakers for the Class of 2022 ceremony.

Fabian, who has been accepted into the Social Research Methodology master’s program at SEIS, looks forward to becoming a life-changing educator and researcher, to help support and shape students in the same way that her professors at Los Angeles Valley College and UCLA have supported and shaped her. Here, she shares her experiences as a high school dropout, a transfer student from a community college, and her hopes to become a life-changing educator and researcher.

What attracted you to the Education and Social Transformation major?

I started off as an applied math major and then I added the double major in Education and Social Transformation and decided to stick with education. I love how I felt in the education department, I felt welcome and cared for. Someone once said that the education department is composed of researchers, but it’s composed of educators, first and foremost. 

I always felt the sincerity of [greetings like], “Antonia, how are you, how are you feeling today?” when we were remote. Even [with the] jam board sessions that we would do online or the little “menti meters,” it felt wholesome and I was like, “Yeah, this is a place where I want to be, I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

I’m actually coming back to UCLA for my master’s degree. I was admitted into the education department again, under the Social Research Methodology division. I want to study quantitative research methods, because I still think about math. It will always be a part of me, so I figured this is the happy medium where I can combine both of those passions. Maybe someday down the road, I’ll teach math. I’m still trying to figure that part out. 

How did you choose UCLA?

I dropped out of high school when I was 15, and eventually went to a program called Options for Youth. I finished my high school education there when I was 20, and then at 21, I decided to go to Los Angeles Valley College. So, I spent four years there and eventually transferred to UCLA. At community college, I met this professor, who was the one who showed me that I could be what I considered being back then, a mathematician. Honestly, the reason why I stayed in school then was because I had a good educator who helped me.

What is the most eye-opening thing you have learned in the Education and Social Transformation program?

Throughout the education courses that I’ve taken, we’ve learned about deficit theories that Latinos and Latinas face. I knew this based off of my personal experience, but finally reading research articles and having these educators teach me about these things [I realized] it wasn’t just in my head, it’s a real problem. Given my own background with dropping out, I knew that for a long time I was viewed through those deficit lenses. I knew that people thought that I didn’t care about school or that I didn’t care about education. 

My classmates who through the Education and Social Transformation major have also learned about all these other stories. Many of us will get to be educators. Some may be teachers, some may not. But everyone, at some point will or has already encountered someone who was like me in the past.  

I believe that everyone deserves a chance not to be looked at through that deficit model. It’s easier said than done, because sometimes we do judge people just because we’re human. What I hope to do is to give someone the understanding that, “Hey, people like us do exist out there, our educational trajectories aren’t linear.” 

I want to tell my classmates, if you ever meet someone in the future who is like that, don’t judge them, help them. Even though some people do come from more privileged backgrounds than I do, I know that everyone at some point, has experienced some type of educational deficiency, even though we might not have shared it. I just want you to help the person that you wish would have helped you when you were younger. 

Do you have plans for your dissertation yet?

When I was at community college, I was a math tutor, just by nature. There’s this law called AB 705 that essentially wiped out all placement tests at community college and placed every single incoming student into transferable math. I don’t personally believe in the law 100 percent. I think that they had the right idea, but I think that the way the law was implemented wasn’t exactly the best. I say that because I worked in the math lab when the law was being implemented and I saw the changes before my eyes. 

I still work at Los Angeles Valley College, and I see the struggles that students face with math and stats. I would love to do research on that law and how to modify it, or to build understanding on why it needs to be modified, not to make it vanish completely, because I think that they had a good idea. 

Math is a very big gatekeeper. A lot of students don’t transfer out of community college because of math and statistics, or give up on their dreams because of those classes. I don’t think that a single subject should deter someone from becoming a lawyer or a writer, or whatever else they want to do. 

When I started community college, I did take a placement test, and I scored all the way at the bottom. Just to get to my first transferable math class, I had to take about four [classes].  Those were 20 units that technically could have been avoided – that is almost two years of math right there. I don’t believe that someone needs to take all of that, but I also don’t think it’s fair to stick someone into a transferable math class right away. 

When you read the legislation on the law, it says that they’re going to base it off of high school transcripts and high school grades, and that’s going to determine how prepared they are. But by doing so, I believe that they’re assuming that all high schools are the same and that’s not true. We all know that depending on where you live, a single zip code can determine how much of an education you can get. So, in my dream, I would get these math classes – and I’m assuming it’s statistics, because almost all students have to take a stats course – and break them into two parts, the first part into a stepper course to introduce statistics vocabulary, and to give the students the fundamentals and basics of math to help them be successful in the second part, a transferable stats [course]. I guess my overall dream is that hopefully, 50 years down the road, I could say that I helped make math and statistics more equitable to everyone. 

How do you see that both academic support and support within the culture of schools can truly help students?

I consider myself a non-traditional student because I started school at a later time, I worked full-time and did school full-time. But I didn’t have children. When I tutored evening students, a lot of them were also non-traditional, but as opposed to myself, a lot of them had kids. A lot of those students are full-time parents and full-time workers and they are some of the hardest working people that I’ve ever met. They came to school at night, and they only took one or two classes because that was all they could do. 

A lot of these students have been out school for so long that they have forgotten basics of math, and they struggle so much with it. They would literally cry to me, because they couldn’t figure it out. I could see the pain that these classes would bring to them, and that hurt. How could a subject that I love so much bring others so much pain and sorrow? I wanted to show them, “No, it’s not this big impossible thing, you take steppingstones and building blocks into it.” 

Everyone deserves a fighting chance, even people like me who dropped out or who took a long time to come back to school. If education truly is equitable, like how we want it to be, then every single student, no matter how long they’ve been out of school, deserves a fair chance. We need to make sure that schools offer students support, both in the social and academic sectors; these support services need to be offered to every single student at all academic levels. If they feel cared for, the probability of them staying in school increases –  students need to know and feel that they matter.

Dr. (Tara) Yosso (’00, Ph.D., Urban Schooling) wrote an article called, “Whose Culture Has Capital?” that was revolutionary to me. When I read that article, I thought about those community college students that I’ve come across. They still want to get an education. And again, just because they didn’t do it the linear way, that doesn’t mean that they’re any less intelligent.

Antonia Fabian and Patrosinio Cruz are both transfer students from Los Angeles Valley College and 2022 graduates of the Education and Social Transformation major. Courtesy of Antonia Fabian

How has your experience been as a member of the second cohort of Education and Social Transformation majors?

This is no one’s fault because it’s just the state of the world, but I wish I would have been able to experience the whole program in person. My whole first year was online, but I still felt that sense of community. I still felt cared for and I still felt loved, even though that might seem a little cliché. The second year, part of it was in person. It felt great – every single thing I felt online, I felt in person. I think that speaks volumes, because if they could replicate those same atmospheres in both circumstances, I think they’re doing a phenomenal job. 

I did learn a lot about myself and my own educational trajectory but through a different lens.  I learned about qualitative and quantitative research methods, and that really changed my life because that’s the next thing that I’m going to come across in [the SRM] program that I’m going to be a part of. 

I feel it’s a bittersweet moment. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy that I’m finally graduating, but I’m also sad because I know it’s coming to an end. Some of the professors that I met through this program have been some of the greatest educators I’ve ever come across in my entire life. Before UCLA, there was only one, my community college professor, Humberto Raya Mendoza,  and now in my head he finally has some company because there are other people who are in that category of ‘greatest educators’, and I think that speaks volumes to the department.

Is there anyone you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Professor (Jeff) Share is so great. And Professor (Jason) Dorio. Those two – I don’t think they know how much they influenced me. I remember crying at the end of the of our last class together, because I was like, I can’t believe this is over. 

Dr. (Nicole) Mancevice, she was so great too, I learned so much about research methods through her. I’ve never met her in person, all of the interactions I’ve had with her were online. But she was one of the people who wrote one of my letters of recommendation to grad school, and I want to say thank you to her for seeing something in me, even through this remote setting. Dr. Felipe Jose Martinez – again, it was through a remote setting, but I thank him too for seeing something in me. He’s actually going to be my advisor for my master’s program. I also want to thank Professor (Daniel) Solórzano, for being who he is and teaching me about myself.

I would also like to thank the UCLA Center of Community College Partnerships for giving me a community of transfer students, to Ariel Rosemond and Santiago Bernal, for taking me in and giving me a transfer family at UCLA.

And of course, to my best friend, Patrosinio Cruz, who transferred into UCLA with me from Los Angeles Valley College. Without his help, I would have felt alone here. Thank you for all the help you gave me, and for being there for me.

What would you like to say to any prospective students in the Education and Social Transformation major?

I think I would just say to any incoming students – because I want to assume that everything will now be in-person – just to take advantage of every single thing that comes their way, no matter how big or small the opportunity may seem. 

And, specifically to transfer students – I know that UCLA can be a big, scary institution but they belong here. Educational institutions have this big name behind them, but they’re known because of the work that goes beyond those doors. They’re known because of the faculty and because of the students. And so, to my fellow future transfer students, just know that you give value to UCLA just as much as anyone else. You deserve to be here, you’re intelligent enough to be here, and you are much more than worthy to be a part of this place.

Photo courtesy of Antonia Fabian