Brenda Ayón Verduzco grew up in the Coachella Valley, the daughter of Mexican immigrant farm workers. The sixth of seven children, she remembers having to find innovative ways to help her low-income family make ends meet.

“My brothers and sisters and I would often help our mother sell baked goods around the neighborhood or at church services,” she says. “I grew up learning how to be resourceful, and more importantly learning to share all that was given to me.”

The experience motivated the out-going Verduzco to push herself through school where she worked hard to set a positive example for a large immigrant community of first-generation students. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class and delivered the commencement address, an honor she’ll be repeating this year as one of two social sciences speakers at the 2012 commencement ceremonies.

As the first member of her family to graduate from a university, the whole experience is a bit surreal, she says.

"Speaking at my high school graduation meant so much to me and validated mine and my family’s sacrifices," she says. “I'm honored that I will get an opportunity to represent my graduating college class at commencement this year.”

While at UCI, Verduzco majored in political science and sociology, earning honors in both. Among her biggest accomplishments, she counts having completed her honors thesis on the social mobility of Mexican immigrants compared to other immigrant groups. She presented her findings at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) symposium last May.

“Research was a concept very new to me; I didn’t know where to begin, or if I would produce something academically meaningful,” she says. “It was a daunting yet rewarding experience, through which I learned how to do research as an undergrad student while also nurturing valuable relationships with my mentors.”

Her work at UCI has been funded through a four-year Young & Marguleas sponsorship and Coachella Valley Pathways to Success and Quarry at La Quinta scholarships. She was also awarded the UCI Carole Creek Bailey School of Social Sciences Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Sociology and a SAGE scholarship, both in 2011.

In addition to her work in the classroom, Verduzco has been active in community service including work through UCI’s Rotaract Club, an affiliate of Rotary International which focuses on humanitarian work. As secretary last year and serving this year as president, she’s facilitated and supported projects such as Relay for Life, PassionFest, Christmas Train Project in Tecate, Mexico, and Special Olympics volunteer events.

One of her best UCI memories happened this year while working on the club’s community service project. With Disney and Kaboom, UCI Rotaract built a new playground in the heart of Anaheim from the ground up.

“It was incredible that we began with an empty sandlot, and in one day, with the help of about 100 volunteers, we built a new playground for children to enjoy in their neighborhood,” she says. “From mixing cement, to digging holes, assembling slides, and nailing benches, we completed the project by mid-afternoon and it was amazing to be involved in something that will help cultivate a better community.”

Her experiences growing up in an immigrant family continue to drive her; after graduation, Verduzco will be enrolling in an LSAT course with financial assistance from the UCLA Law Fellows Program. She hopes to attend law school in fall 2013.

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the social inequalities that many underserved communities suffer from - limitations to employment, voting rights, education,” she says. “I realize the need for change in policy and government and want to be part of the solution.”

Listen in live as Verduzco delivers her commencement address at the 2012 Social Sciences Commencement Ceremony 1 on Friday, June 15 at 1:00 p.m.

-Heather Wuebker, Social Sciences Communications

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