Jessica Canas-Castaneda

When Jessica Cañas-Castañeda began her UCI journey in 2001, she had no idea her Anteater experience would turn into a professional career track encompassing more than two decades (and counting!).  The ’06 sociology alumna who serves as the department administrator and manager of the global and international studies, sociology, Chicano/Latino studies, and social policy and public service cluster has turned her passion for helping others into a full career within the School of Social Sciences. In June, she was awarded the David L. Leinen Outstanding Staff Award, an honor that annually recognizes social sciences staff for fostering excellence, innovation and community within the school and across campus. Below, the longtime Anteater shares how she creates community and builds connections in the school that has become her professional home.

Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up? How did you wind up at UCI – first as a student and then as a member of the staff?

I grew up in Los Angeles and was a preadmit for a bachelor’s in sociology. UCI was far enough away from home to feel different, but close enough to still allow me to be near family. I was a work study student in the Office of Research and the Department of Logic & Philosophy of Science throughout my undergrad. My commencement was on a Sunday and I came back to UCI the next day as a full time member of the staff, covering the front desk of the dean’s office. And I haven’t left social sciences since. I went from the dean’s office to working as an assistant analyst in cognitive sciences, then to the school’s business office, back to cognitive sciences as an analyst, and now I’m the department manager in global & international studies.

That’s so awesome that you’ve spent your full career as an Anteater – and all in social sciences! What keeps you here? What do you enjoy most about your role in particular?

The staff. I’ve enjoyed the people I work with here so much. In every job I’ve had, I’ve been on a small team and really gotten to know my coworkers. The staff here feels like my work family and understands my professional identity. At home, I’m a mom and a wife. Here, I’m a college graduate and manager – it’s a nice shift. I enjoy getting to live in a different identity here, and I’ve been lucky to work with great people who also enjoy their work lives.

What initiatives excite you most among those that your department is currently working on? What are you looking forward to in the coming year? And what work accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I started in our department, we had six faculty and no graduate program. We now have 16 faculty members and 21 graduate students, along with amazing plans for new labs and up-coming events with different communities. There are lots of things in the works – we’re still building as a new department. But being part of that from the ground up has been fun. I’ve gotten to help create the proposal for the Ph.D. program and revamp the undergraduate major; it’s so exciting to be part of something being built – kind of like a startup. I also love the diversity in our department. There are 4-5 languages spoken in our department alone which is so cool. I have faculty who I can talk to in Spanish – faculty who are from where my family is from. I really love getting to see everything in the works come to fruition. When I was in cognitive sciences, I enjoyed working with my faculty who are experts in the brain and all things math related; in global and international studies, I’m enjoying the community aspect of the areas our people study.

How do you foster a sense of community and collaboration among your department?

Open communication and trust are key for me. For my staff, the only way we get somewhere is if we communicate about what’s going on, needed, or missing. I’m always on calls, emails, texts, Zooms, Teams – wherever I need to be to make sure open lines are flowing. It also really helps that I like the people I’m with; we’re together at least eight hours a day and so we share the good and bad and learn from each other. Work will always get done, but it’s nice to like the people you’re here with.

What advice do you have for new staff members looking to make their mark here at UCI?

Don’t be afraid to be involved and enjoy what you do. You have a voice – use it to speak your mind and contribute. Be respectful of other people and learn from what they have to offer. Talk to people. Don’t be afraid to invite someone to lunch or coffee – and don’t wait for them to do it. Take the lead and get to know your people.

Now some fun ones:

  • Favorite song/artist:
    • Wild Flower by Park Hyo Shin
  • Favorite restaurant/food:
    • Seafood
  • Any pets?
    • Dog (Buddy) and Cat (Lady)
  • Favorite place to staycation and vacation:
    • Hawaii
  • Favorite hobby:
    • Crocheting

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