Brandman in the Community

Leadership Institute strengthens academic advisor’s desire to make a difference

February 25, 2016 by Cindy O'Dell
Karina Quintanilla, academic advisor at Brandman's Palm Desert campus, is interviewed for CNN during her Leadership Institute trip to Washington D.C.

Karina Quintanilla, academic advisor at Brandman’s Palm Desert campus, is interviewed for CNN during her Leadership Institute trip to Washington D.C.

A year ago, Karina Quintanilla had just started her yearlong association with Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) Leadership Institute.

Since then she’s learned more about the Central Valley and the drain on water and other resources caused by almond growing and the use of water byproducts from fracking.

She’s advocated for a state Senate Bills 4 and 15, which touched on topics near to her heart: health and education.

She’s put to use the political and activist skills the Leadership Institute helped her sharpen as the new chair of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership Financial Aid Committee, working collaboratively with education partners in K-12 schools, community and four-year colleges to increase the number of students filling out their Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms to take advantage of the more than a million local dollars available as matching scholarships and to meet a goal of having 80 percent of students complete the forms. It’s a goal dear to her heart as an academic advisor at Brandman University, as well as a member of an often underserved community.

But those aren’t even the top highlights of a year she describes this way: “I think few experiences in my life have made such an impact on how I see myself as a woman, a professional, a Latina and as a resident of California as the way HOPE (Leadership Institute) saw me. It really made me ‘be the ripple that starts the wave.’”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Karina Quintanilla.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Karina Quintanilla.

In October, Quintanilla and her fellow HOPE leaders travelled to Washington D.C. where they met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, attended a public policy conference that included presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Quintanilla managed to maneuver through the rush of people trying to meet Sanders. A friend caught the moment on camera when Sanders, with his hand on her shoulder, listened to her question about considering debt forgiveness for former college students in addition to his call for free tuition for new ones. She was also interviewed by CNN.

Although not entirely satisfied with his answer (he talked about lowering interest rates), she was still thrilled with the opportunity. “Who would have thought somebody who grew up in severe poverty in Tijuana and was an English language learner would have this opportunity?”

The Washington trip also had its reflective moments. Time spent in Arlington National Cemetery reminded her of the veteran students she advises at Brandman’s Palm Desert campus. It was made even more moving by her remembrance of family members who served in the military, particularly her  cousin Victor, who died in Iraq.

“It was reliving Victor’s funeral that made the pain almost unbearable there.  I lost my composure into full meltdowns at least five times.  It was so powerful. It was those moments that made me reflect on what our students go through and the benefits they have earned through their service.  Victor joined because he knew that was how he would pay for school.  He didn’t last 30 days in Fallujah after he left in 2004.  He was only 19, and the oldest of 4,” she said.

Her very busy year, which included trips to Sacramento and Los Angeles for various conferences, didn’t give her much time to reflect on her personal goals but she’s begun considering her options. A top priority is finishing her Master of Arts in public administration (MPA) and finding a way to include what she’s learned both as an academic advisor and through HOPE and tie it to public policy.

That might include working for the state Department of Education where she could bridge the gap between policy and implementation after witnessing both as a parent and an advisor the frustration that can come with curriculum mandates. And once she’s completed her MPA, there’s the lure of going on to get an Ed.D. at Brandman. “I’m a lifelong learner and know there’s no such time as the present.”

In the meantime, she’s encouraging other women to look into HOPE and the Leadership Institute as well as continue their educations. “I like to show my advisees how their attitude and achievement here (at Brandman) goes on into the greater community.”

She draws inspiration from Elisa Quintana, a Kepler Mission research scientist at the SETI Institute and NASA who spoke at the Latina History Day last year and who Quintanilla remembers saying, “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” It remind her to “look at the limits you put on yourself and that others put on you that really aren’t there. You can shatter them and keep moving forward.”

Related stories:

  • Academic advisor taps into an ‘astounding’ network of Latinas
  • Brandman to host academic advising conference in March
  • Discipline from mom, inspired teacher both vital to MPA faculty member’s success

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