Being a college student can be difficult, especially in your first year. 

It’s normal to feel lost and overwhelmed, but those who have come before us know what it’s like to be in our shoes. So, their advice can help us take the steps necessary to run the marathon that is college. 

That’s why City on a Hill Press spoke to UC Santa Cruz SOAR/Student Media/Cultural Arts and Diversity (SOMeCA) alumni whose experiences at UCSC have given them the insight to guide us.

Some answers have been edited for brevity. 

Belinda Lum

sociology, class of 1996.

Belinda now works as a Professor of Sociology at Sacramento City College, and Los Rios College Federation (LRCFT) Chief Negotiator. 

How did you change between coming into and leaving UCSC?

“Santa Cruz was really instrumental in helping me by affirming what mattered to me and what I wanted to work on. For me, that was my sense of civic engagement and social justice and how I wanted to work in the world.”

How have you seen your experience differ from students today?

“The level of anxiety of our current students is much higher than what it was. I think it’s the pressures of the pandemic and the cost of your education, etc. People need to take care of their well-being because if you don’t do it, no one else will. Though it’s not just about asking for help; it’s about taking time to do what you need to do to get right in your mind and body. People are really, really hard on themselves in really unnecessary and detrimental ways. We need to focus on giving people skills to build themselves — to use a growth mindset, not a deficit mindset.”

Leisette Rodriguez

sociology and education, class of 1996.

Leisette now works as the Labor Relations Director for the California Association of Professional Employees AFL-CIO.

How did you change coming into UCSC versus how you left?

“I came in as a biochemistry major, but there was a lot of political stuff going on. I found myself on the picket line more than in the chem lab, so I met with my academic advisor. I took sociology, and that was the first time my lived experience was talked about. I was learning about the ‘-isms’ in a very real way. I think Santa Cruz lands on the fact that you can have friends from everywhere. If you are like-minded, then you end up staying up really late to talk about the things that you’re learning. There’s no other time in your life that you will be able to experience that.”

What would you tell someone who’s trying to pick the “right” major?

“The short answer is: you don’t know. Pick something that you’re passionate about, not something [where] you think, ‘Oh, it’s going to make me quick money’ or, ‘My parents want me to do this.’ You’re there for yourself because you have to do the work. You carry all of your ancestors with you. But at the end of the day, you’re the one that has to do all of that. […] Just know why you’re there. You’re really trying to shine. You are trying to be the whole constellation. So quarter after quarter, just move, little by little, towards building your star constellation.”

YenYen Cuison

community studies, class of 2010.

She now works for the Pilipinx community center in San Francisco as the development director. 

How did you change coming into UCSC versus how you left?

“I came into college thinking I was going to be a business management economics major. After I took computer science one and had to code I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m for this.’ I thought I would become a business manager or own a store. But then I changed to community studies, so I became more involved in different organizations. After my second year, I got more involved in activism on campus. My mindset shifted from just being part of organizations to thinking of ways to change.”

What would you tell someone struggling in college right now?

“Reach out to people because I can guarantee a hundred percent that there’s someone else going through the same thing, and there’s actually resources out there. It’s better to seek support or seek help than to sit in silence.

If you could give one last piece of advice, what would it be?

“Campus is a mess at times, so speak out or organize other folks around an issue. At the same time, I feel when we were college students, we had to check our ego and learn that we messed up. Apologize for messing up and then move forward. If folks want to do good and change the world, this is the cool part of college you get. Think of how you want to change.”

Editors’ Notes: There is no relation between the author and Leisette Rodriguez.