Pammy Cabotaje

Like most students who began college during the pandemic, Pamela Cabotaje's first impression of UCI was a virtual one from her home in Daly City, just outside San Francisco. When she finally got to visit campus for the first time, things clicked immediately.

Cabotaje with her Kababayan board"There wasn't any formal tour, because of COVID. So I just walked around with my family, and I ended up at Aldrich Park," she recalled. "It was one of those moments where it felt right. In that moment, I realized, I think this is a comfortable space where I'm gonna grow."

And grow she has. When Cabotaje first entered as a psychology major, she didn't realize the wealth of research opportunities that awaited her. "Seeing how social sciences majors specifically conduct research was interesting because it's on a qualitative interview basis, getting to know your participants one on one," she said. "I didn't know there was research like that that can be conducted."

By her third year, she'd been invited to join the Dream Keepers Research Lab, which centers communities that lack representation in research. The projects that she has assisted with focus on the Latinx community, specifically through the lens of feminism and empowerment.

Cabotaje, who is Filipino American, has found commonalities with Latinx faculty on campus. "There's some cultural overlap between the Latinx community and the Filipino community," she said. "It was nice getting to know other first-gen faculty and staff members who became my mentor figures and who shared more about their personal life trajectories. It was really reassuring to be in environments with people who are coming from similar experiences as me."

One of those people is UCI social sciences associate dean and professor of teaching Jeanett Castellanos, who heads up the Dream Keepers lab. "I really appreciate how she gets to know me and other students on a personal level," Cabotaje said. "Whenever we would have check-ins during her office hours, the first things she would ask me are, 'How are you, and how's your family?' And I think that's something that tells me a lot about a person, that they're really invested in you first. That's something that's really stood out about Dr. C."

It was Castellanos who introduced Cabotaje to social science research to begin with, and inspired her to stick with it. "It's because of Dr. C that after UCI I want to be in the field of higher education, because she was such a good example of what it means to be in academia."

Cabotaje plans to spend one to two years working in academic advising or outreach before pursuing a master's in higher education. Another mentor, UCI social sciences lecturer Corina A. Espinoza, was instrumental in helping Cabotaje envision that future for herself. "She was the person who taught me about graduate school, what that looks like for first-gen students like myself," Cabotaje said.

Cabotaje with mentor Jeanett CastellanosNow a professor, Espinosa was previously the director of the Cross-Cultural Center at UCI.  Inspired by this, Cabotaje ultimately wants to pursue a career there as well, or perhaps at the Social Sciences Academic Resource Center, where she currently works as a peer consultant. In any case, she's eager to lead. "Ideally, I would like to be in a director role where I can have oversight over leadership and be a mentor-like figure for different students," she said.

This type of mentorship has been invaluable during Cabotaje's own undergrad years. Espinoza and Castellanos introduced her to the concept of having an academic family. "That's something that I've been able to gain from their mentorship," said Cabotaje. "Having this support system with people who really care about you as a person and also your future development."

Her academic family also includes her two supervisors at the SSARC, Jasmine Esquivias and Angel Salazar. "They kind of feel like my older brother and older sister figures."

Cabotaje is grateful to all of these individuals who have nurtured her personal growth. "I have specific individuals who I know I can lean on even beyond leaving UCI," she said.

Cabotaje was one of two women selected to give a speech at commencement. "When I told Dr. Espinoza about the commencement speech, she gave me a hug," she said. In the speech, Cabotaje plans to return to this idea of community.

"When we leave UCI, we're not going to be graduating by ourselves — we're graduating with all the people that we met at UCI," she said. "Although it may be really intimidating to leave this space, we're doing it with a strong support system of people. These people not only shape our college trajectory but will also shape us long term, as individuals."

Cabotaje with her SSARC family. She doesn't take for granted the fact that she's been able to build such a robust support system at UCI. "Talking to friends at other campuses, they don't feel as connected," she said.

An important part of Cabotaje's community is Kababayan at UCI, a 500-strong Filipino American student club, of which she is the president. In fact, it was a particular tenet of Filipino culture that inspired the topic of her commencement speech: bayanihan.

"The gist is this idea of having a sense of shared identity and being connected with members of your community," explained Cabotaje. "I wanted this to be a speech that's less about myself, and more so a speech that connects with the broader community and allows the people in the audience — whether they're students, family members, faculty members — to really think about the people closest to them, and to think about the people that have helped them get where they are now."

-Alison Van Houten for UCI Social Sciences

-pictured: Pammy Cabotaje. Cabotaje with her Kababayan board. Cabotaje with mentor Jeanett Castellanos. Cabotaje with her SSARC family.

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