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UC First-Generation Virtual Symposium

UC First-Generation

Friday, November 13, 2020
9 a.m.–2 p.m. PST

The University of California's virtual symposium honored the national First-Generation College Celebration and the 55th anniversary of the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Topics included Asian American and Pacific Islander first-generation students, first-gen populations in graduate schools, supporting first-gen students' career readiness, and a critical look at the evolution of higher education in times of unpredictable challenge and opportunity.

Visit the links below to access the recordings.


9:00–9:15 a.m.

Opening remarks

Liz Halimah, Associate Vice Provost for Graduate, Undergraduate and Equity Affairs, UC Office of the President

Welcoming address

Dr. Michael V. Drake, President, University of California

Watch the opening remarks

9:30–10:15 a.m.

Breakout session 1: First-gen API students at UC

Watch breakout session 1


Dimpal Jain, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, CSU Northridge

Noel Salunga, Director, Strategic Asian Pacific Islander Retention Initiatives, UC Davis

Joseph Sorensen, Associate Professor of Japanese, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Davis


Maria Dykema Erb, Co-Director, Diversity & Student Success, The Graduate School, University of North Carolina

10:30–11:15 a.m.

Breakout session 2: Supporting first-gen graduate students in uncertain times

Watch breakout session 2


Paulette Garcia Peraza, doctoral student, UC Santa Cruz

Matt Newlin, higher education and college access practitioner

Laura M. Wagner, Associate Professor, School of Nursing, UCSF


Alece Alderson, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Student Life, UCSF

11:30 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

Breakout session 3: Career readiness of first-gen students

Watch breakout session 3


Mona Monfared, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, UC Davis

Carina Salazar, Associate Director, Career Education and Engagement, UCLA

Carolyn Sandoval, Associate Director, Teaching + Learning Commons, and Director, Engaged Teaching, UC San Diego

Naledi Saul, Director, Office of Career and Professional Development, UCSF


Jeanette Ruiz, Assistant Professor of Teaching, Department of Communication, UC Davis

12:15–1:00 p.m.

Closing session: A critical look at the evolution of higher education's response to the needs of first-gen students in times of unpredictable challenge and opportunity

Watch the closing session


Frances Contreras, Professor, Department of Education Studies, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, UC San Diego

Amber Garrison Duncan, Strategy Director, Lumina Foundation

Kevin Graham, University Innovation Alliance, UC Riverside


Sarah Whitley, Assistant Vice President, Center for First-Generation Student Success, NASPA

1:00–2:00 p.m.

Closing session recap and after-party

No recording available


Special Guest

President Michael V. Drake, M.D.Dr. Michael V. Drake was appointed the 21st president of the University of California in August 2020. He oversees UC's world-renowned system of 10 campuses, five medical centers, three nationally affiliated labs, more than 280,000 students and 230,000 faculty and staff.

Dr. Drake previously served as president of The Ohio State University from 2014 through June 2020. Prior to OSU, he served in several roles at the University of California including nine years as chancellor of UC Irvine and five years as the systemwide vice president for health affairs.

An ophthalmologist by training, Drake received his A.B. from Stanford University, his M.D. and residency from UCSF, and his fellowship training in ophthalmology at UCSF and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Speaker Biographies

Alece Alderson headshotAlece Alderson (she/her/hers) is Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life at UC San Francisco (UCSF). Within her role, Alece oversees first-generation support services; student involvement and government; veteran and military support services; student rights and responsibilities; and basic needs. She is passionate about developing and growing support services and is dedicated to fostering collaborations with faculty and staff in order to best support the first-gen community. Alece has developed a robust First Gen Mentorship Program at UCSF. She serves on UC's First-Generation Coalition. Alece graduated from Chapman University with a B.A. in public relations and advertising. She holds an M.A. in higher education and student affairs from the University of San Francisco.

Frances Contreras headshotFrances Contreras (she/her/hers/ella) is a professor in the Department of Education Studies and an Associate Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. She most recently served as co-director of the joint doctoral program in Education Leadership at UC San Diego. Dr. Contreras has over 12 years of administrative leadership both at UC San Diego and the University of Washington College of Education, where she directed their higher education program. Her research focuses on issues of equity and access for underrepresented students in the education pipeline and on the role of public policy in ensuring student equity across a P–20 continuum. Her work has been published in leading education journals and presses, including Harvard Educational Review, Educational Policy, American Education Research Journal, Journal of Hispanics in Higher Education, Harvard University Press and Teachers College Press. Dr. Contreras earned her bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley, master's degree from Harvard University and Ph.D. in administration and education policy from Stanford University.

Maria Dykema Erb headshotMaria Dykema Erb (she/her/hers) has worked in higher education and student affairs for 28 years. Her experience includes diversity, equity, and inclusion; academic affairs; student affairs; and enrollment management. After 20 years at the University of Vermont, Maria moved to North Carolina, where she worked at Elon University and Duke University. Maria is the co-director of Diversity & Student Success in The Graduate School at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. There, she established and directs the Carolina Grad Student F1RSTS initiative. Maria also leads the mid-Atlantic regional community as part of the First-Gen Forward program through the Center for First-Generation Student Success. As a proud first-generation college graduate, she holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in higher education, leadership and counseling from UVM.

Paulette Garcia Pereza headshotPaulette Garcia Peraza (she/her/hers) is a Ph.D. student in developmental psychology at UC Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on how underrepresented (e.g., first-generation, ethnic-racial minorities, working-class) undergraduate and graduate students navigate college within their social context. She partners with on-campus groups to implement research findings and to provide resources to first-generation and womxn-of-color graduate students. She received her bachelor's in psychology and business administration from Chapman University and her master's in psychology from California State University, Fullerton.

Amber Garrison Duncan headshotAmber Garrison Duncan (she/her/hers) is an evaluation and planning officer at Lumina Foundation, where she focuses on managing evaluations and advancing evidence-based knowledge systems to apply evaluation findings and to inform Lumina's strategies to reach Goal 2025. Amber also serves on Lumina's strategy work group, focusing on new systems of quality credentials in higher education, including the Degree Qualifications Profile/Tuning. These activities allow her to draw upon her many years of campus-based experience designing co-curricular learning experiences and leading assessments. Amber has researched and written on general education, integrative learning, assessment, Latinas in higher education and women in leadership. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in student affairs administration and higher education and just defended her Ph.D. dissertation on education methodology, policy and leadership at the University of Oregon.

Kevin Graham headshotKevin Graham (he/him/his) serves as the University Innovation Alliance Fellow for UC Riverside. Dr. Graham has worked within the field of higher education for over a decade. He spent several years at the University of Rochester as a lecturer and as a research assistant at the School of Education. He also worked as an HR practitioner for underrepresented students at the university's medical center. Following his time at the University of Rochester, Dr. Graham assumed an assistant director position, supporting undocumented students at Cornell University's Office of the Dean of Students. Kevin completed his Ph.D. in higher education at the University of Rochester. He most recently served as a doctoral project specialist at UC San Diego, developing a domestic exchange program for undocumented students. Kevin has a passion for diversity and inclusion, mentorship and working with students on notions of academic and personal success.

Liz HalimahLiz Halimah (she/her/hers) is the Associate Vice Provost and Chief Policy Officer for Graduate, Undergraduate and Equity Affairs at the UC Office of the President. Liz serves as chief strategist for systemwide initiatives that enhance UC's diversity, improve campus climates, support equity and inclusion systemwide, and cultivate diverse academic pipelines to higher education and to the University of California. She has more than 20 years of service to the University of California across a variety of domains and brings a distinguished background in equity, inclusion and diversity. She comes to the Office of the President from UC Berkeley, where she served as the Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff in the Division of Equity and Inclusion. In this role, she led efforts to improve campus climate and data-focused diversity planning and to enhance the programs and services that support students, faculty and staff. Liz holds a master's degree from the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and a bachelor's degree from the University of Oregon.

Dimpal Jain headshotDimpal Jain (she, her, hers, Dr.) is an associate professor within Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at California State University, Northridge. As a first-generation college student from a South Asian family, Dimpal received a bachelor's degree from Western Washington University and master's and doctor's degrees in higher education and organizational change from UCLA. Her research centers on the relationship between community colleges and universities, most notably how baccalaureate-granting institutions can develop and maintain a transfer-receptive culture for students of color. She uses critical race and womanist frameworks to explore issues related to the transfer function, faculty of color and femtoring. She co-authored the book Power to the Transfer: Critical Race Theory and a Transfer Receptive Culture and is currently co-editing the book First-Generation Faculty-of-Color Narratives: Survivance in the Academy as Political Acts. Dimpal calls both Seattle and Los Angeles home.

Mona Monfared headshotMona Monfared (she/her) is an assistant professor of teaching in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Davis. Mona lectures on biochemistry and conducts research on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). One of her pedagogical interests is in incorporating written assignments into large biochemistry courses to promote engagement and practice with communication and peer review. She is also interested in research that explores conceptual, rather than procedural or algorithmic, approaches to problem-solving skills in biochemistry. Mona received a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Santa Cruz and worked in the biotech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area for several years. She then joined the biochemistry and molecular biology doctoral program at UC Davis. Following a postdoctoral position at UC Berkeley, studying plant molecular genetics, she was a full-time adjunct lecturer at Holy Names University and Santa Clara University, before joining the faculty at UC Davis in 2015.

Matt Newlin headshotMatt Newlin, Ed.D. (he/him/his), has 14 years of experience as a higher education and college access practitioner. As a first-generation student from a low-income family, he has dedicated his career to higher education equity. Most recently, he served as Director of Rural Initiatives at the College Advising Corps, where he oversaw an increase in postsecondary enrollment for students from rural communities. In past roles, Matt has worked at Washington University and the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where he established a number of programs and initiatives to increase college access and persistence for low-income and first-generation students. Most notably, he has created a $1 million need-based scholarship, a first-generation student support program and a financial literacy initiative. Matt has also worked with state and national programs to increase postsecondary access. He is actively involved in NASPA and NACAC. Matt holds a Ph.D. in higher education leadership from Maryville University.

Jeanette Ruiz headshotJeanette Ruiz is a CAMPOS Faculty Scholar and an assistant professor of teaching in the department of communication at UC Davis. She specializes in strategic communication, with a specific interest in emerging practices and concepts in digital and social media. In addition to her appointment in communications, she has served as a human resources and public relations consultant for various nonprofit, managed-healthcare and finance organizations. Currently, she is interested in issues of assessment, accessibility and inclusivity for students in higher education.

Carina Salazar headshotCarina Salazar (she/her/hers) is the senior associate director of UCLA's Career Center. She oversees Undergraduate Career Counseling and Graduate Career Services. Carina is a passionate and committed advocate in higher education, with more than 20 years of experience. Her leadership philosophy is based on a social-justice framework. She believes strongly in access and equity for all students, regardless of their level of career development. Her work at the Career Center is focused on creating a collaborative career ecosystem that enables students to experience early career development and connects them to meaningful opportunities. While devoted to her work, Carina enjoys spending time with her family and friends.

Noel Salunga headshotDr. Noel Salunga (he/him/his) is a working-class Filipino immigrant and first-generation college graduate of UC San Diego. He has 14 years of experience serving first-generation students at the high school and college levels. Dr. Salunga serves as director of the Asian Pacific Islander Retention Initiative at UC Davis. In this role, he supports Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students by providing community-building activities, student seminars, student leadership consulting and individual retention advising. He is passionate about working with AAPI students to help them achieve their personal, academic and professional goals. Using his comparative-ethnic studies background, coupled with his experience in student services, Dr. Salunga seeks to support all students who identify with the AAPI student population and/or first-generation college. He believes the best way to serve the AAPI population is to be student-centered, allowing students to be the "drivers of their own success."

Carolyn Sandoval headshotCarolyn L. Sandoval (she/her) is associate director of the Teaching + Learning Commons and director of the Commons Engaged Teaching Hub at UC San Diego. She leads efforts that promote faculty and student success in teaching and learning. Carolyn has worked in higher education for over 30 years, developing and leading programs aimed at educational access, equity and social justice. Her background includes several years in outreach and retention programs that served Chicanx/Latinx students at the University of New Mexico and UC Riverside. Dr. Sandoval has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in learning theories, research methods and social justice education. She has provided educational consulting at colleges and universities across the U.S. and internationally. Her scholarly work includes several published, peer-reviewed articles related to women and mass incarceration and to the scholarship of teaching and learning. Dr. Sandoval received a bachelor's degree in communications from California State Polytechnic University, a master's degree in adult education and a doctor's degree in educational human resource development from Texas A&M University.

Naledi Saul headshotNaledi Saul (she/hers) is the director of UCSF's Office of Career and Professional Development. Naledi teaches clinicians and scientists to skillfully assess and successfully negotiate educational and professional situations in the clinic, the lab and the larger world. She is a co-PI on an NSF grant teaching future faculty how to supervise and mentor with inclusivity. Naledi has presented her professional development workshops at national meetings, including NIH, ABRCMS and FASEB. In recognition of her work, she was presented with the UCSF Chancellor's Award for Exceptional University Management and the Chancellor's Award for Diversity—Advancement of Women Leaders. Prior to joining UCSF, Naledi was an assistant dean of students at Amherst College and an assistant director of the Career Development Center at Mount Holyoke College. She holds a master's degree in public management from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a bachelor's in history from Spelman College.

Joseph Sorensen headshotJoseph T. Sorensen (he/his) earned a bachelor's in Japanese at UC Berkeley and went on to study at Kyushu University and Tokyo University for postgraduate work. He returned to UC Berkeley for his master's and doctor's degrees in Japanese literature. His expertise is in classical literature, e.g., The Tale of Genji and other works of narrative fiction, with a particular focus on the court poetry of the Heian and Kamakura periods. His first book, Optical Allusions, centered on the relationship between painted screens and poetic composition. He is translating The Untitled Book (ca. 1200), a text recognized as the first work of literary criticism in the Japanese tradition. He is the faculty director of the Japan Children's Home Internship Program (JCHIP), which sends UC Davis interns to various orphanages throughout Japan to do volunteer work over the summer. In addition to the courses in literature, history and film he teaches on campus, Joseph regularly leads a study abroad program in Kyoto.

Laura Wagner headshotLaura M. Wagner, Ph.D., RN, GNP, FAAN (she/her/hers), is an associate professor at the UCSF School of Nursing. She earned degrees in nursing from Case Western Reserve University, the University of Pennsylvania and Emory University. Dr. Wagner was inducted into the American Academy of Nursing in 2013. Dr. Wagner's program of scholarship focuses on improving the quality of nursing care to vulnerable older adults. Her research spans two decades, and she is the author of almost 70 peer-reviewed publications and a recipient of numerous awards. Dr. Wagner is the founder of the FirstGenRN program, a career-development program aimed at those who are, like her, the first in their families to attend and graduate from college. She is the "go-to" person regarding building capital among first-generation college students in the health professions. Her scholarship highlights education and first-gen status as an important social determinant of health among the next generation of nurses.

Sarah Whitley headshotSarah E. Whitley (she/her/hers) serves as Assistant Vice President of the Center for First-Generation Student Success. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, where her interests included issues of inequality; academic motivation and decision-making; teaching and learning; the success of first-generation and low-income students; and the university presidency and board governance. Her dissertation examined the academic decision-making of low-income and first-generation college students in humanities disciplines in a post-Recession context. From 2007–13, Sarah served as Director of First-Year Experience and Family Programs at Longwood University, where she was responsible for a host of transition, first-year experience, student success, and community engagement initiatives. Sarah is the author of First-generation Student Success: A Landscape Analysis of Programs and Services at Four-year Institutions, as well as other work on first-generation and related topics. A first-generation college graduate, Sarah also holds an M.Ed. in college student personnel administration from James Madison University and a bachelor's degree in political science from Longwood College. She is a 2010 graduate of the HERS Bryn Mawr Summer Institute.