If you're a member of the UCI social sciences community, it's almost a certainty that you know Karissa Sorenson and Patrick Del Rosario, director and program coordinator of the Social Sciences Academic Resource Center. Together, they support students' professional and academic growth through internship development opportunities and as hosts of engaging workshops and networking events that bring together students with UCI and community supporters. They've also been known to lead some killer ukulele jam sessions and baking demos that'll leave you wondering if there's anything this team can't do. In spring, the UCI Womxn's Hub announced this dynamic duo as recipients of the Dynamic Womxn of UCI Ally Award. The honor recognizes Sorenson and Del Rosario for creating a space to advance women in higher education by breaking down barriers. Their nominator highlighted the pair's exceptional, collaborative working style that elevates women's voices and programming within and beyond campus. Below, Sorenson and Del Rosario explain what being an ally for women at UCI means to them, why they value UCI as the place to make change happen and what’s on SSARC’s horizon for the coming year.
What does being an ally for women at UCI mean to you?
KS: Throughout my six years I have worked at UCI, I have had the privilege to learn from and be mentored by a number of inspiring womxn on campus. It is this supportive professional network of diverse womxn that has impacted my personal understanding of being an ally to other womxn. Showing up, listening, offering support, mentorship, friendship, and guidance, are the values that have been integral to how I actively build up and help womxn succeed at UCI and beyond.
PDR: That answer resonates with me as well. UCI is filled with a very diverse set of womxn who I also look up to as well. Many of my peers, supervisors, and mentors provided me with a strong foundation of understanding allyship and being a model for those intending to be allies as well.
What do you think makes UCI - and the social sciences - the prime space for creating a boundaryless environment where women thrive?
PDR: I can start this one. I’ve been at UCI as an undergraduate and gradually came into a position of leadership at SSARC after I graduated. Being here for over eight years now, I’ve observed the successes and setbacks of how our university handles diversity and inclusion. Taking these experiences, applying my own knowledge, and engaging in conversations allows me to ensure I am taking efforts to help create the space where womxn can thrive. So, to be recognized as an ally at this moment wildly exemplifies how much I’ve learned throughout the years which I strongly believe can continue for others in different spaces.
KS: Absolutely, to share this recognition with Patrick is an honor. I believe that what makes UCI and the social sciences a prime space for creating a boundaryless environment where womxn thrive is our community of allies, changemakers, leaders, scholars, and innovators. We all share a role in advocating for and acknowledging the meaningful contributions that womxn make to our campus.
Your events over the past year have focused a lot on mental health as part of the student professional and academic development package. Tell us more about your philosophy that keeps mental health front of mind as we go into a new, uncertain year.
KS: At SSARC, we have a holistic approach to student success. We are not only invested in students’ personal career and academic goals, but their mental and physical wellbeing. This past year has been difficult for all of us. The pandemic, our transition to emergency remote learning, and the racial climate and injustices across the nation have exacerbated existing disparities and generated important conversations that are necessary. Our students have been faced with isolation, increased anxiety, financial challenges, and family responsibilities. As part of this community and meeting the needs of our students, we must keep mental health at the forefront.
PDR: Right. We work very closely with our students, and it's commonplace for some of them to open up to us about their personal responsibilities and hardships. One of the great things that Karissa and I both agree on is that the experience of a student in an internship or volunteer experience is heavily influenced by our involvement as their supervisors or mentors. By speaking with them regularly on a one-to-one basis, we learn about them individually and help to shape their internship experience to closely fit their needs and interests.
What's on the horizon for fall 2021 for any students interested in getting involved with the SSARC?
KS: This upcoming fall, we have an exceptional cohort of incoming student leaders who will be ready to provide peer support and individualized advice to our student body. New and current students can get involved by attending our workshops on the graduate school admissions process, career preparation, internship placement, faculty mentored research opportunities, and much more.
PDR: [Laughter] Well, yes. There are quite a few opportunities for incoming students as well. As part of our annual programming, our Dean’s Ambassadors Council (DAC) helps assist our social sciences departments in hosting their major orientations. New incoming students will have the opportunity to learn more about their chosen major and some of their representative faculty and staff. In addition, we oversee the First-Generation First Quarter Challenge (FGFQ) which helps first-generation freshmen and transfer first years acclimate to UCI’s campus, its culture, and our departments.
And last but certainly not least, your incredible hobbies and talents on display in your social events this past year were such a bright spot for so many of us trying to balance our new remote worlds. Tell us a bit about how you find balance and whether or not we'll be seeing more delicious demos and musical stylings in the coming year.
PDR: Musical stylings? [Laughter] Besides a few songs that are memorized on a piano, I don’t think it’s much to highlight. 2020 sparked a resurgence in my interest to collect things. So my free time is mainly occupied with collecting Transformers, Legos, and various board games which are beautifully displayed in bookcases or glass displays. Since board games are something I can share with my family, we played a lot throughout the pandemic. Possibly right after work even, considering we were all working from home. [Laughter] I don’t know, Karissa, do you think we can create a series of events pitting students against staff and faculty in a board game night?
KS: Sounds like fun brainstorming to me, perhaps a new tradition in the social sciences. Watch out, dean Maurer! [Laughter] Finding balance in a remote world has challenged me to adjust as needed, be mindful of Zoom fatigue, and intentionally take time off to recharge and dedicate to existing hobbies. Baking has been one of my favorite ways to decompress, express creativity, and learn. At SSARC, we are always willing to try something new, discover more about each other’s passions, and integrate what we enjoy into the work we do.
Interested in learning more about the SSARC? Visit them online: https://www.ssarc.socsci.uci.edu/