Labor Studies Alumni Q&A: Diana Marquez on perseverance in higher education

By Vanessa Codilla and Ashley Michel

Can you tell us about yourself? 

My name is Diana Marquez, and I am an alumna from UCLA’s Class of 2019. I studied Sociology, and minored in Labor and Workplace Studies. I am currently applying to graduate programs in Human Resources and Industrial/Labor Relations. I grew up in the Pico-Union neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. I am a queer Latina who has seen struggles within my family and within myself, but has persevered for higher education despite multiple barriers. My mother is from El Salvador, my father is from Mexico, and I have four amazing siblings who mean the world to me.

[EDIT: Diana will be attending University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management for their master’s program in Human Resources and Industrial Relations starting Fall 2020.] 

What challenges did you face as a non-traditional student? What do you think UCLA or the Labor Studies program can do to better serve non-traditional students?  

I had to overcome several obstacles, ranging from commuting long hours due to not being able to live close to campus, to having outside family obligations, such as having to work during my academic career. I also had to personally address the areas in my life that prevented me from focusing on my academics and do so in a way that supported the balance that I needed to finish. This past June 2019, I walked the stage, rounding out a long journey from when I first was accepted in 2005. 

Coming from a low-income and underrepresented background, I benefited greatly from the Academic Advancement Program, which is where I gained access to counselors that kept me on track. Each time I returned, I was faced with clearing paperwork and doing the readmission process. It was challenging to express what prevented me from finishing and articulate what I had done to prove to the university that I was ready to keep going, but AAP was a huge help.

Speaking from my experience, I did not know there were resources available early in my undergraduate experience. While I am thankful for the support from many of my professors, especially in the Labor Studies program, I wish there was a way to address things early on to create a road map that is more inclusive of the difficulties one may face. 

I know there is helpful information on the syllabus for each class at UCLA with regards to needing assistance, but that information still seemed distant at times. I think having a bi-weekly check-in with students either from a peer counseling program, or a digital check-in system for the class, would be helpful to see if students are on track or if they need guidance. Things may change during the quarter, such as working additional hours, or starting a new job, and these changes are important to keep in mind.

Diana and her peers at the UCLA Labor Center Banquet of 2019

What led you to pursue the labor studies minor? What do you think impacted you the most within the minor?

During a period of time off from UCLA, I wanted to transition myself into being a student again. While working multiple retail jobs, I enrolled at a local community college. At Los Angeles Trade Tech College (LATTC), I took my first Labor Studies class, where I discovered a new passion that was everything labor related. Being in a class setting and relating to other workers helped me bridge my parent’s working class struggles to other labor movements. Upon realizing this was something that I could pursue academically, I pursued an AA degree in Labor Studies. Once I was ready to return to UCLA, I brought much of what I had learned from LATTC: a combination of my own worker experience and shared experiences with other student workers.

The Labor Studies Minor at UCLA brings the reality of working conditions to the classroom, providing opportunities to engage in active community work. I was able to work with the Pilipino Worker Center and create training modules. I also conducted research with the Garment Worker Center, investigating wage-theft claims from workers who were unfairly paid, or not paid at all. 

Diana celebrates her accomplishment on graduation day

You mentioned that you are in the process of applying to grad school. Can you share any tips you have for students that are considering graduate school? 

Get curious, and start your research based on the programs you are most interested in doing. Look at the courses they are offering and make a list of the schools that excite you the most. I went through each school and found a graduate recruiter phone number or graduate advisor’s phone number and began calling, letting them know who I was and asking questions about the application process. To be honest, the application process can seem overwhelming, but talking to someone was key behind starting the application.

Be prepared to take the GRE or any exam they are asking for. Go to the library and find some GRE study guides to practice beforehand, and remember, you can retake the test if you didn’t score as well as you anticipated. 

Reach out to professors and ask them if they can write you a letter of support. This can feel scary, but trust in the fact that you are a great student. Start by thinking of the professors who left a great impact on you. Another hurdle will come with the writing portion of your personal statement. Same as with the GRE study guides, go to the library and look into guidebooks. I had a few different drafts and asked family and friends to read them. This part may take you the longest, and it is okay to frame different ideas of what you want to speak on based on what they ask.

Try to put it out into the universe that grad school is your next step, or it is something you are considering at some point. Put it out to your networks, your advisors, your professors, your T.A’s who have also gone through this process.

You have made it this far and grad school will come with challenges of its own, like costs, and commitment. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for reaching the finish line of one chapter. 

Do you have a few short words of advice for seniors getting ready to graduate?

It is never too late to start thinking about your future. Think openly and honestly about framing the skills your undergraduate degree has given you and how you can apply them into something successful and meaningful. Stay connected and plug into mentorship programs if you can, like the UCLA Alumni Mentor Program. I am currently the mentee of the Assistant to the Regional Director of the National Labor Relation Board’s Regional Office in Los Angeles. I am thankful for the connection that I have with someone who believes in me and can offer helpful advice in life beyond UCLA. Find mentors, build your support team, and know that there are people like myself, who are rooting for you.