Marlenee Blas Pedral ‘12 will be representing UC’s 285,000 students as a voting member of the Board of Regents. She is ready to create change for the UC system.
Marlenee Blas Pedral ‘12 always had a great passion for student government and policy, majoring in Global Studies with a minor in Spanish during her time at UCSB. Born in Mexico, she attended UC Santa Barbara and as a first-generation student, she seized the opportunity to participate in UCSB’s programs, including the Educational Opportunity Program, Hermanas Unidas, and Student Government. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she received a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from the University of Vermont. Marlenee continued to work with the UC system as a career counselor and associate director at UC Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation. While attending UC Berkeley Law she was appointed 2022-23 UC Student Regent. Marlenee hopes to bring her experience in the UC system to champion student initiatives as we begin to recover from the pandemic. Her hope is to help create cohesion and equality across the UC campuses.
Marlenee shares the importance of community building and how her experience at UCSB shaped her experience as a leader. She reflects on her journey and her goals for the UC system as she transitions into a University of California Board of Regents member.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in while attending UC Santa Barbara? How did these activities set you up for your current opportunities?
Coming into UC Santa Barbara, I knew I needed a sense of community and mentorship so I participated inSTEP, the Summer Transitional Enrichment Program through EOP. It was my first introduction to UCSB and connected me with my lifelong friends. My EOP Counselor, Harold Kennedy, was one of my first mentors, he helped me select my classes, and later apply to graduate school. He was an overall encouraging and positive person. The EOP program allowed me to feel connected and accepted e at UCSB.
During my time as a student, I became involved with Hermanas Unidas. The friends I made at Hermanas Unidas continued to remain strong as I pursued graduate school and my first full-time job. When I was job searching in California, I would email Hermanas all over the state and remain grateful for their insight and advice. Most recently, I had the honor to be the speaker for the Hermana virtual 2020 Conference. While there, I met someone working at the district attorney’s office and she helped me prepare for my interview! Hermanas at UCSB was my first home away from home and I hope to continue to be involved now as an alum.
I was also part of El Congreso, Office of Student Life, and the Democratic Process Party with a fellow Gaucho and Berkely Law Student who served as student regent in 2017-18, Paul Monge. Paul is an example of how my friendships and community at UCSB continued to help shape my path. Overall, the thoughtful leaders and mentors at UCSB had a great impact on my journey and current opportunities.
What were some challenges you faced as a first-generation college student?
The first thing I always say is being a first-generation student is like going into a room and the lights are off while navigating everything. You are hitting chairs and knocking things over. Mentors helped turn the lights on for me. Mentors showed me how to write a resume, how to apply for a job, and how to apply for graduate school. As a first-generation college student- you are eager but you don't know what you don't know. To help overcome challenges, mentors and programs like STEP can really help make a difference. First-generation college students, in my experience, are hard-working, smart, and defy all odds to learn and thrive.
Along with being a Gaucho, you have worked for the UC system in several ways. Tell us about this previous work.
So much of the work I did at UC Riverside was informed by my own experiences as a student. I was going in with this idea “lift as you climb.” UCR has one of the largest first-gen populations and pell grant recipients. With financial challenges in mind, I was very acute in how that affects students’ abilities to buy a suit for an interview or obtain support and tools to excel in a career fair, community event, or internship experience. While I was at UCR, I co-founded two projects. The first is the R’ Professional Career Closet. We found an office, folded clothes, and collected professional items so students can attend networking events or interviews. It is important for everyone to feel comfortable in these environments to give off their best impression. The second project is called The Butterfly Project. It is also career-oriented with weekly workshops on how to write a resume, cover letter, elevator pitch, and more. The goal is to prepare undocumented UCR students for post-college opportunities.
What inspired you to attend law school after graduating from UCSB?
So much of my work was about advocacy and creating opportunities. As a student and later as an educator at UCR, I was inspired and motivated to pursue law school when I saw the challenges undocumented students faced first-hand. In my professional role, I observed how the Chief Campus Counsel creatively navigated issues and served as a champion for students. Seeing few Latinas as attorneys at universities inspired me to become an attorney and apply to law school. Particularly I wanted to be at UC Berkeley, as a leading public law school, I wanted to learn from the best.
As of July, you were appointed as the 2022-23 UC student regent! What are your roles and responsibilities during this 1-year term?
My goal is to learn as much as possible during my first year I will attend all meetings and champion the student point of view on issues related to health, affordability, and student success. During my second year, I will have an opportunity to shape policy and vote on items that come before the board. This year I will meet with stakeholders, learn, train, and when the health situation gets better, I will visit all UC campuses. As we return to in-person instruction, I am meeting with board members and students to assess how we ensure we prioritize the health of students.
What policies do you hope to advocate for to maintain an inclusive campus climate for the UC community? Where do you see the UC system heading in 10 years?
I am passionate about working to address the student housing crisis, especially with the pandemic as people are moving in and out with prices the highest they have been. I hope to advocate for ways to find more affordable housing.
The public UC has done a great job at creating programs like STEP and the Butterfly Project but I think there is still room for improvement. For example, in 10 years, all UC should have a Career Closet, a Food Pantry, and a Butterfly Project. Years from now, I hope to see cohesiveness in the programs that are doing well in one UC and then replicated into the UC system as a whole. I want to see more balance in the UC’s so there is an equal playing field amongst student opportunities.
To that end, I am hopeful that we will be innovative and creative as we take on decisions that will impact the next 10 years. I want for all students what my parents wanted for me: access to quality education.