Evelyne Aviles Velazquez ’26 grew up on the outskirts of Sacramento and as a high schooler took a job at a busy restaurant only blocks from California’s domed capitol building.
“I would pass by the Capitol thinking maybe someday I’ll be inside,” says Aviles. “It’s always been at the back of my mind.”
Now she has had a glimpse inside state government, and the idea of shaping policy someday is front-and-center for Aviles. On February 28, she participated in “Day at the Capitol,” an event for students from private institutions around the state to meet with legislators and their aides and advocate for the role of private institutions in California higher education.
Aviles had the opportunity to publicly greet State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, vice chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. She spoke about her student experience in a meeting with State Senator Anthony Portantino, and Aviles met with a series of legislative aides throughout the day, hurrying through the rain to appointments in the office buildings next to the Capitol.
“This opportunity has really influenced me to consider a career in the realm of public policy,” says Aviles.
Her senior year of high school, she received a scholarship from the Cien Amigos Educational Fund and the Mexican Cultural Center of Northern California. Through that scholarship, she became acquainted with one of its strategic allies, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), and was invited to apply to its Independent California Colleges Advocate Program.
“Evelyne is a prime example of why we invest in the future of first-gen students who hold great potential,” says Kristen Soares, president of AICCU. “She is a strong advocate and proudly represents the communities that shaped her.”
The program “trains students to be representatives of their campuses so that they’re able to talk with legislators and their staff,” says Aviles. She has spent the last six months learning leadership and advocacy skills to influence policymaking matters impacting higher education.
The goal is “to present legislators and staff our priorities for the year so that they’re more informed and educated to make decisions on our behalf,” she says. To understand what students at Pomona College need and want, Aviles conducted a survey earlier this semester. Top responses included access to mental health services, affordability of college and resources for undocumented students, she says.
The training culminated with the annual “Day at the Capitol.” The goal this year was to bolster support for additional funding for Cal Grants, the state’s financial aid program for college students. Aviles was impressed with the level of engagement from aides and the detailed conversations.
Aviles arrived at Pomona as a Questbridge Scholar. Eager to stay in California while relocating to a more metropolitan area for internship and entertainment opportunities, she ranked Pomona as one of her top schools. On campus, she has found her place through the CLSA (Chicano Latino Student Affairs), the Latinx Alliance and the Draper Center for Community Partnerships, through which she does “a lot of community outreach.”
She is hoping to major in public policy analysis and still considering her concentration within that major. A class that particularly resonates with her this semester is Immigrant Youth Activism, taught by Arely Zimmerman, assistant professor of intercollegiate Chicana/o-Latina/o studies. “As an immigrant myself, it’s been very revealing to see the concepts of migration and how it’s centered around community organizing,” says Aviles.
As she looks ahead, Aviles says, “It’s eye-opening to see what can be done. And how much there is to be done.”