Name: Nicole Balbuena
Major and current year at UCI: senior, majoring in Chicano/Latino studies, political science, and sociology
Award: Outstanding Community College Transfer Student Scholarship
Hometown: Santa Ana, CA
Proudest of: Being a first-gen, completing three majors, working part-time, and maintaining a 4.0 GPA


What are your proudest accomplishments?

In 2016, I became the first in my family to attend college, receive an associate in arts degree in political science, and transfer to a UC. For three years at UCI, I have been taking 16 to 28 units of coursework per quarter, overseeing two student organizations, conducting undergraduate research, and working one part-time job, while maintaining a 4.00 G.P.A. and making it to the UCI Dean’s Honor List each quarter. In June, I’ll be graduating with three majors in Political Science, Sociology, and Chicano/Latino Studies. I also conducting my Chicanx/Latinx studies honor thesis and UROP research project on undocumented victims of intimate partner violence. And I am a domestic violence survivor.  

As a triple major, how do your areas of study intersect?

The current field of study that I am pursuing is immigration and domestic violence. After working closely with Alfonso Valdez, Laura Enriquez, Glenda Flores, and Louis DeSipio, they all have shaped my focus on what type of research I want to continue in graduate school. For instance, I have taken courses with Enriquez, Flores, and DeSipio that heavily focus on immigration, which influenced the research that I am doing as an undergraduate student. Valdez has recommended me after-school programs and volunteering opportunities in domestic violence agencies that made me become an advocate for victims of domestic violence. Also, my field of study is influenced by my personal experiences as a domestic violence survivor. My central focus of the research I want to conduct in graduate school is undocumented victims of intimate partner violence and their overall experiences accessing social and health services in Orange County.

What are your plans after graduation?

After I graduate in June, I plan to take a year off, prepare for the GRE this summer, and apply to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. I want to use this doctorate to become a college professor and contribute to the scholarship on intimate partner violence (IPV) and explore what type of health and social resources are needed in marginalized and immigrant communities. This academic goal stems from conducting my undergraduate research project on undocumented victims of IPV accessing domestic violence (DV) services, and I hope to expand this project in graduate school by specifically looking at the perspectives of the undocumented victim of IPV.

What would you consider your biggest achievement at UCI?

One of the biggest accomplishments at UCI is starting the first college Healthy Emotions and Attitudes in Relationship Today at UCI club. As the chief executive of the club and a domestic violence survivor, I wanted to provide a safe environment for UCI students to discuss intimate partner violence (IPV) and bring awareness on this global epidemic, but also extend this outreach by mentoring K-12 students in afterschool programs in low-income communities. My responsibilities are to develop the curriculum of the program, execute daily tasks to 14 board members, and formulate partnerships with non-profit organizations that concentrate in providing medical and health needs to the local community as well as UCI students. In two years, I have established direct and indirect partnerships with Laura’s House, Planned Parenthood of Orange County, and recently with Waymakers.

Under my direction, the H.E.A.R.T. club has swelled from 13 to 65 members and has formulated indirect and direct partnerships with the afterschool program in low-income communities such as Higher Ground Family and Youth Services (Higher Ground), Lighthouse Community Center, and Vive Center. These afterschool organizations offer mentoring programs for youth and their families who live in low-income, at-risk communities, specifically in Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far and why?

My family has played the most important role because they provided the essential living needs that any daughter/son needs in their life. Without my family, I believe that I will not make it this far in my education. In reality, they have been involved and engaged throughout my education, that is, 19 years (since pre-school). Because of this, I thank them for not letting me give up in school.

What’s your best memory thus far from your undergraduate experience at UCI?

The best memory thus far is getting to know professors, staff members, and friends on campus that motivated me throughout my three years at UCI. They made much fun and easier to get through each quarter.


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