Angel Lira’s future is looking brighter than ever. After graduating in 2020, Angel participated in the Coro Southern California Fellowship Program in Public Affairs, one of the longest-running leadership development programs in the nation. Since completing the program, he has been working on a campaign to petition the governor and the Public Utilities Commission to prevent utility companies from overcharging solar panel users. Angel is also preparing to travel to Paraguay and conduct research funded by the Fulbright Student Open Study Research Award. Though Angel has much to look forward to, he took some time to reflect on his experiences at UCI and how much he’s changed since his freshman year.

Born to Mexican immigrant parents and the first in his family to attend college, Angel explains that he was pushed towards a certain idea of success. “I think that many kids coming from immigrant backgrounds grow up thinking that you always have to shoot for the best,” he says. “You have this idea that success is going to the best college, getting the best job, and making a lot of money.”

Angel came to UCI with this mindset, and his plans for college and his future revolved around a very specific set of goals:

“I started at UCI knowing I was interested in politics and government, but it seemed like the only path was to become a lawyer or go into the federal government. So, I thought I would pursue law—I would get an internship for a couple of years and then apply for law school. Well, I got an internship at a law firm, and I just didn’t like it.”

While this realization threw Angel for a loop and he worried about his future, it also pushed him to consider other options at UCI. Angel started talking to friends about what they wanted to do. They encouraged him to branch out even further, which jump-started the process of what Angel describes as unlearning his biases, expectations, and assumptions. 

Angel began exploring other interests and decided to pick up International Studies as his second major. He also connected with Dr. Caesar Sereseres, UCI Associate Professor of Political Science, who became a trusted mentor and friend. 

“He’s a Mexican professor, and for a lot of Social Sciences students—unless you’re a Chicano-Latino Studies major—you don’t really see LatinX, Latino-American professors. So being able to talk to him, hear his story, and see the similarities between us was really cool. He was a stigma-breaker for me, and he helped me get over my impostor syndrome.”

Along with the friends that Angel made at UCI, Dr. Sereseres became a central figure in his support system. Not only was he Angel’s research and honors thesis advisor, but he was also Angel’s main recommender when Angel successfully applied for the Fulbright Award during his senior year. 

Angel is excited to take his research to Paraguay, where he will be interviewing rural farmworkers about their political perceptions and opinions on issues like poverty and land/water inequality. Angel is particularly looking forward to the community aspect of the project:

“I’m interested in seeing the similarities between my community and the communities I’ll be visiting in Paraguay. I’m also excited to see how people live in Paraguay, learn from them, and hopefully find ways to help their community as well as mine. I think it took me a long time to realize it, but the community work is really what attracted me to International Studies.”

After completing his research, Angel hopes to use his experience to make a meaningful difference as a community, union, or immigrant justice organizer. “This is what I enjoy doing; I love seeing that the work I’m putting in has a tangible impact,” he smiles. “And it’s crazy because this is something I never would have imagined doing when I thought success was all about wearing suits and working as a lawyer at a top company.”

Angel wants current UCI students to understand that there isn’t a universal standard of success—it’s something that everyone needs to discover for themselves. He says: 

“Looking back, I was scared of taking risks and pursuing my passions, and I wish I had gotten the advice that people’s paths aren’t linear and that you can’t really plan things out five years in advance, no matter how hard you try. So, I would tell current students to try new things and explore as much as possible. You might assume that you have to do certain things or follow a set path, but success is really up to each individual person. While it may seem scary, it’s always okay to change your mind and pursue what you love.”

To read more UCI alumni stories, click here. To hear UCI students and alumni talk about their experiences and share their insights, check out the We Are UCI podcast here.