As she closes out her final year as an Anteater, UCI’s Katia Necoechea Madriz, who graduates this spring with a double major in psychology and education science, is reflecting a lot on her educational journey. A path that began with challenges is culminating in a pretty sweet victory as she prepares for a nine-month stint teaching high school students in Madrid as a prestigious Fulbright Scholar.

Katia’s C.V. reads like a laundry list of accomplishments, extra-curricular involvements, and scholarships. She’s currently the UC Irvine Peer Academic Advising Program coordinator. She’s served as a discussion leader for the Summer Bridge Program, a teaching assistant for bilingual education, and she’s helped teach high school students in the Upward Bound program. She’s interned in various capacities for the Student Alumni Association, been a notetaker for UCI’s Disability Center, and is a SAGE Scholar, just to highlight a few of her activities. 

But her own academic successes come second to her real passion, and what she hopes to do once she returns from Spain: foster others' academic accomplishments as an elementary school principal.

“The mentorship I have received is why I am so passionate about bringing that support to other students,” she says. “It has changed the trajectory of my education, career opportunities, and life in the best way. I want to have that impact on others too.”

Her personal educational experiences serve as her driving force in her quest to help others succeed in academia. School was been a challenge for her in her youth, due completely to circumstances out of her control. Her mother worked days and nights as a cleaner to make ends meet for Katia and her sister, but there were still moments of instability that led to the family having to stay in shelters and move around often. Katia attended six different elementary schools while learning English as a second language. In spite of the difficulties, she persevered and was a star student. Later on as a high-school student and prospective first-gen college student, she relied on organizations like Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood, a local mentorship program, to provide her the advice, resources, and confidence to pursue college and financial aid to make it possible. 

“The power of mentorship provided by CVPN, my teachers, and counselors was crucial in me pursuing my dream to attend college,” she says. “They showed me the opportunities that were out there, and helped me believe that I was deserving of these scholarships that made it possible for me to afford college.”

Katia made it a priority to return the gift of mentorship, even as she worked through a full university schedule. She volunteered to deliver her own workshops on college applications and financial aid through Upward Bound, and even provided support to local high school students in her hometown of Chula Vista. She says that, ultimately, it’s her goal to provide the same confidence she was given, and make other students feel connected, worthy, and supported. 

And that’s why her sights are set on a career as a principal - so she can enact programs and school cultures that encourage and support students from all backgrounds. She hopes that her time teaching in Spain will give her experience with high school students and provide some new perspective on how education is approached in other cultures so she can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to her future school.

“I want to create after-school programs that will help students whose parents work long hours,” she explains. “Programs that promote higher education, programs outside of sports such as dance and arts, and programs that teach life skills. I want to continue to find ways to foster personal and academic growth among students, as well as engage with the community as a whole - guardians and teachers.”

But before she goes on to mentor others, Katia makes it clear that her own mentors are what made it possible for her to be here as a decorated UCI Alumna and a Fulbright Scholar. These outstanding supporters include: 

  • Estela Magaña, who supported her work in the Peer Academic Advisor Program, has always been a cheerleader for her and encouraged her to apply for the Fulbright Scholarship;
  • Cecilia Leyva Melgoza and Neda Moayedi, directors of the SAGE program, who have helped her determine how to transition her skills to post-grad life;
  • Heather Cartagena, her PAA Supervisor who has helped her grow as a leader and connected her with countless people and resources;
  • Daniele Struppa, who has always taken the time to help her with advice, reviewing applications, and connections while serving as the president of Chapman University.

“I am grateful for each and every one of them,” Katia says. “Knowledge is power and sharing that knowledge is amazing, whether informally or otherwise. Them taking time out of their day to help me explore my goals is amazing. They are the reason I value mentorship and am on the track that I am. It’s really been life-changing.”

-Bria Balliet for UCI Social Sciences



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