“Yes, it WAS possible” is emblazoned on the mortarboard of a student participating in a pre-COVID-19 Nuestra Graduación, a bilingual ceremony that celebrates the achievements of UCI’s Latino grads.

2021 marks the fifth consecutive year that UCI has been designated a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution. The campus was first named an HSI in 2017, after enrollment of Latino students reached 25.7 percent. The designation followed UCI’s recognition as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution earlier that year, showcasing the university’s commitment to diversity within the student population.

Four years later, this commitment has not wavered. UCI continues to strive for inclusive excellence, and this is evident in its efforts to support and uplift the Hispanic community.

Most recently, UCI trustees initiated the UCI Orange County Alliance for a Latinx Thriving University, which works with academic schools and existing educational programs across campus to increase mentorships, internships and scholarships for UCI’s Latino population. It’s endorsed by the UCI Foundation’s board of trustees and campus administration.

The alliance’s 31 founding members hail from such varied academic disciplines as business, law, public policy, media, education and the arts. Six of them are UCI alumni themselves, including:

  • Founder Carlos Feliciano, a special agent in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. A 2006 graduate of UCI, he was heavily involved in university affairs, serving as board chair for the UC Student Association and as president of the Associated Students of UCI.
  • Founder Andy Paz, senior vice president at Experian. She immigrated to California from Argentina and earned an MBA at UCI in 2007.
  • Founder John Tracy, retired chief technology officer and senior vice president of engineering, operations and technology at Boeing. He obtained a Ph.D. in engineering from UCI in 1987.

The business school’s Latinx Initiative

Like the alliance, The Paul Merage School of Business’ Latinx Initiative supports inclusive programming for Latino business students at UCI. On Oct. 15, it will host the inaugural LXi Conference, a virtual event featuring guest speakers and panelists from the national Latino business community. Lucy Santana, CEO of Girls Inc., will deliver the keynote address.

The law school’s Latinx Initiative

The UCI School of Law’s Latinx initiative takes the form of a project in association with the American Bar Foundation. The Future of Latinos in the United States: Law, Opportunity, and Mobility focuses on how law and policies relating to immigration can affect Latinos’ economic and political participation, civic engagement, and education.

Education and social sciences

Other UCI schools also bolster Latino excellence through programming, staff and research. In August, Frances Contreras was appointed dean of the School of Education. Currently the associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion at UC San Diego, she will assume her new role on Jan. 1, 2022. A first-generation college student, Contreras will be the first Latina dean of education in the history of the UC system.

In the School of Social Sciences, Glenda Flores, associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies, is exploring the undervalued role of Latina physicians – who make up less than 2 percent of doctors nationwide – in U.S. healthcare. Her work has recently been published in the journals Contexts and Gender & Society – the latter co-authored by UCI grad student Maricela Banuelos.

Belinda Campos, professor and chair of Chicano/Latino studies at UCI, examines the mental and physical benefits of Latino approaches to relationships. An upcoming paper in American Psychologist that she co-authored will present a framework for understanding cultural diversity and its applications to relationships.

On July 30, Hector Tobar, associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies and English (literary journalism), was featured in a podcast for Harper’s Magazine. In the episode, “Home Country,” he recounts his 9,000-mile road trip across the U.S., during which he visited and reported on many Latino communities regarding cultural identity.


The UCI School of Humanities is offering language courses tailored to Spanish speakers in order to use their preexisting language skills to learn other Romance languages.

Student leaders

UCI’s Latino undergraduate population is home to many impressive student leaders.

Mariko Victoria Herrera, a junior majoring in both business administration and English, has been awarded the Military Student Scholarships Endowment. She co-founded the Anteater Aviation club in fall 2019 and plans to pursue a career in aviation.

Esai Gustavo Garcia, a senior majoring in both environmental science & policy and urban studies, has received the Anteater Scholarship and a Simon Family Foundation Scholarship. He hopes to be part of a new generation stepping up to steward the planet – and to help other Latino students through their academic journeys.

Elizabeth Yanira Montoya, a senior majoring in both biological sciences and sociology, has been awarded the SchoolsFirst FCU Endowed Scholarship for Math & Science Teachers and the Thomas and Lillian Ma Endowed Scholarship. She has participated in the Minority Science Program – which aims to increase the number of underrepresented students in biomedical research – since before she was a student at UCI.

UCI has become one of the most sought-after universities in the nation for prospective students, especially within the Latino community. The campus received a record 134,000 undergraduate applications for fall 2021, which also marks the third consecutive year of UCI being the top UC choice for in-state, first-generation students. UCI was the No. 2 choice for Chicano/Latino students applying within the UC system, and the university continues to work to validate its designation as a valued HSI.