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Staff Snapshot: Gerry Medina, mentor and Lakers fan

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Gerry Medina is a first-gen college graduate. He hails from Riverside, California — the community he currently serves. And because he’s a former Highlander, when he helps students navigate their path through the university, they value his sense of connection and authenticity as much as his knowledgeable advice.

Gerry’s path to becoming a leadership and service programs coordinator started during his own college days. “I really enjoyed being a student at UC Riverside and I was involved in a number of activities. At some point, I learned that there were professional staff facilitating many of these experiences. I knew I wanted to pursue that career and that it would be a great fit for me,” he says.

Since then, he has achieved a master’s degree in postsecondary education and student affairs, and he’s devoted his career to helping students reach their academic goals. “I really enjoy mentoring students, and hope to inspire them to pursue whatever careers they can see themselves thriving in,” he says.

His inspiration? “My family. They are the most important thing in my life; no questions asked.”

Advocating for inclusion

A key component of Gerry’s success is his deep commitment to continually learning more about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) principles and working to embody them in his personal and professional lives. 

“DEI is what I do every day, but it’s not something I only think about at work,” he says. “Everyone should be well versed in DEI principles. There is no excuse: Start googling.”

And, he explains, seeking opportunities to foster inclusion must always be top of mind. “I like to learn history. Our society was built to benefit some and not others, and this was done systematically and intentionally. The only way for us to unravel the true impact of these practices is to be systematic and intentional in our approach to dismantling it. At UC, this means utilizing university time, money and other resources to help students explore the reality we’re living in. It means working DEI values and principles into strategic plans and action items. It means committing with institutional memory — one program at a time.”

Building bridges

One of Gerry’s current priorities is leading the UC Riverside Civic Engagement Ambassador Program — an attempt to redefine civic engagement at UC Riverside, while planting the seed for future programs and initiatives that will invite all Highlanders to be active participants in their communities. The aim is to make civic engagement a pillar of the UC Riverside student experience. 

“It is critical that we help university students understand that they play a role in their community and that their engagement is vital,” Gerry explains. “Similar to how we make decisions at home that we believe are most beneficial for our families, we must be involved in making decisions for our neighborhood, city, county, state and country. We wouldn’t let others decide what is best for our family; why let others decide what is best in every other community we are a part of? Civic engagement includes everyone — we can’t sit on the sidelines.”

The focus on civic engagement at UC Riverside began to build steam in 2018 with efforts to promote voter engagement. They’ve been wildly successful. “In the 2020 election, UC Riverside surpassed the national average for voter registration, voting rate of registered students and overall voting rate for the first time that we know of — ever since the campus has been involved in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement administered by Tufts University,” Gerry says. 

The Civic Engagement Ambassador Program is taking this engagement to the next level by providing more opportunities for students to be active in civic life. Over the past few years, Gerry has developed and piloted programs that encourage students to see themselves as community change-makers.

For one of this year’s projects, ambassadors developed and launched a survey to identify barriers to students’ community and civic engagement in the larger Riverside community. In May, the program will host a dinner to bring together students, staff, faculty and local partners. Together, they will discuss the real and perceived barriers to student involvement, then explore how to build more bridges between the campus and community. 

The program is gathering systemwide attention. In February, it received a grant through the Valuing Open and Inclusive Conversation and Engagement (VOICE) Initiative, sponsored by the UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. VOICE Grants provide up to $5,000 in funding for UC students, staff and faculty who are interested in conducting research or coordinating programs and activities that further the Center’s mission, which this year focused on building community. The Civic Engagement Ambassador Program plans to use their award to offer mini-grants to student leaders. These students will develop their own initiatives, resources or programs to either address a community concern or encourage peers to pursue civic engagement. Gerry will provide student leaders with ongoing mentorship, and they’ll attend workshops to advance their ideas and bolster their leadership skills. 

“Campuses talk about retention, but we never focus on retention in the region after graduation,” Gerry points out. “Our students go through a number of incredible leadership development experiences throughout their time on campus; we develop incredible leaders who then take their talents elsewhere. If we better connect students with the local community, they may decide to stick around after they graduate to use and expand their talents here.” 

Meet Gerry 

Name: Gerry Medina 

Title: Leadership and Service Programs Coordinator

Department/Unit: Student Life

Location: UC Riverside

When did you start working for UC? December 3, 2013

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Leadership development and community service programs

Why do you love working for UC? I am an alumnus of UC Riverside, so this campus holds a special place in my personal story. I am the first person in my family to attend and graduate from a four-year university. I am also from Riverside and have lived here essentially my entire life. I see myself in the students who attend this university. I know my parents and family are very proud of me for having graduated from here and working here, and I am sure that the parents and families of the students I work with feel the same about them. I like to be a part of their story, too.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I am a life-long Lakers fan. Some of my best memories involve me jumping up and down in celebration of another impossible shot made by Kobe Bryant, aka the “Black Mamba”! I also love tech and lowriders — I hope to own one someday.

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? How about someone who is not yet born? I would love to have dinner with a pioneer from 10,000 years in the future (assuming humanity survives that long). I want to know what amazing things they have learned about our universe and beyond.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? You owe nothing to nobody; make moves for yourself and your family.

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