As her UCI commencement looms closer, School of Social Sciences’ senior Daijanique Joseph is gearing up for a future of championing for educational equity.
Joseph, who will graduate this June with degrees in both social policy and public service (SPPS) and political science, arrived at UCI with the intention of studying engineering. Nevertheless, she quickly discovered that the social sciences is where she belonged. Since then, she has found a passion for promoting educational equity in underserved communities and has devoted her time as an Anteater to the cause, from serving as a mentor to underrepresented high school and first generation college students during her time at UCI, to working as an advocate for low-income preschoolers in the Santa Ana community. And with life beyond UCI fast approaching, she’s excited to take her knowledge and passion out into the real world.
Joseph’s path to social policy work began her freshman year. Though she had been preparing for a career as an engineer all throughout high school, she realized within her first few months on campus that it was not what she truly wanted to pursue.
“I had been a member of the ACE mentorship program and participated in competitions focused on architecture, construction, and engineering in high school, but once I got here I knew it wasn’t something I enjoyed,” she says. “My parents were really nervous because I didn’t have a plan, but I knew I didn’t want to do engineering.”
She began searching for a direction that was right for her and, with her knack for communication and interest in current events, political science appealed to her early on.
“My family played a big part in that because we grew up discussing politics and current events openly and frequently,” she says. “So I grew up with the mindset that it’s something you have to know. And I always wanted to get involved with causes, but I wasn’t sure how.”
Luckily, she joined UCI’s Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) after her first year where a friend introduced her to the SPPS major. After a bit of research, she realized that the hands-on approach the major promoted where she could combine her passion for volunteering and research made for the perfect marriage between her interest in politics and her desire to enact change.
A perfect fit
As she dove into her studies and looked into community service opportunities, she found herself continually drawn to the topic of education. Having grown up in an underserved community in south central Los Angeles, Joseph knew firsthand that the world of primary education was not an equal playing field. In fact, the schools she attended were often overcrowded and working with limited resources. So, she decided she wanted to do something about it.
“Education is the thing I’m most passionate about because it’s the thing in my life that’s given me the most opportunity and the most access,” she says. “It gives people the power to change their lives. Even if you do come from a low-income background like myself, my education and the individuals that I have met within the world of academia are what pushed me to believe that I can achieve any goal I set for myself.”
Since joining SPPS Joseph has had the perfect avenue to pursue her passion of becoming a champion for education reform, both on and off campus. For example, though she was already volunteering at a low-income preschool in Santa Ana before she discovered the major, the fieldwork requirement for SPPS has given her the chance to continue that work while observing the school through a research lens. And while she can’t enact policy changes just yet, she hopes that being a supportive resource and example for these children will be enough to help them succeed.
In that same vein, she completed her role as a mentor in the School of Social Sciences’ First Gen First Quarter Challenge at the end of the fall quarter. The position allowed her to pass on the knowledge she gained as a first generation student to the newest crop of Anteaters, but it also allowed her to learn from her mentees. Thanks to the experience, she gained insight into where there are shortcomings in preparing younger students for college, which is where she believes the majority of policy changes need to happen.
“I definitely want to make changes in early childhood education because I believe that’s the catalyst for everything,” she says. “Making quality education accessible from a young age willcut the need for extra programs at the college level – the students won’t need to catch up because they will already have the necessary tools.”
On top of all this, Joseph is an honors student and has been involved with ASUCI, ISEP, and Jumpstart. After being selected for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), she conducted her own research on the academic persistence of African American female college students at four-year institutions, a demographic that she found had been largely ignored in these types of studies. She’s also studied abroad in Barbados, and completed the Public Policy and International Affairs Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. But perhaps the most impactful experience she’s had was her time with UCDC. As part of the UC-wide program, she was able to intern with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., giving her a real look at the world of politics, policy and research. Though she worked 40 hours a week working writing policy memos and conducting research for grant proposals, empirical analyses and briefing packets, she could not resist getting involved with local schools in her free time.
“I felt so appreciative for the opportunity to even be there in D.C. – it’s not something many students get to do,” she says. “I saw the opportunity in itself as a sign of privilege, so I thought I should use it to help others.”
Instead of using her days off to sightsee and relax, she decided to volunteer to take students from low-income communities in the D.C. area to visit local landmarks and government buildings. She hoped to serve as an example as well as motivate the high school and junior high students.
“Even though these students live so close, most of them had never really seen these places for themselves,” she says. “It was about showing them that they are just steps away from all this and that they could even be a part of it in the future. Showing them that politics isn’t far-fetched, that it’s accessible and it is relatable to them.”
Ultimately, Joseph’s hands-on approach is a perfect example of how SPPS aims to prepare students to take real action to help others. And that’s exactly why she’s so happy she made the jump from engineering several years ago.
“SPPS is important because it’s different,” she says. “There’s a lot of focus on textbooks in most classes, but you don’t get out in the real world and experience it or do anything about it. But SPPS says, ‘this is happening now, what can we do to fix things.’”
Following her graduation this spring, Joseph hopes to participate in a government fellowship program and then go on to pursue a Juris Doctor (JD) and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) dual degree. Her goal is to find a career that allows her to create laws and policies to remedy problems within the education system, perhaps as a senator or representative. But she’d also be happy with a more behind-the-scenes role in public administration and research – as long as she is instrumental in making these changes happen.
“My parents always tell me to ‘just do it all,’” she says. “So who knows – maybe I’ll end up doing both.”
—Bria Balliet, UCI School of Social Sciences