Diana Ortiz Giron ’14

Major: History (Chicana/o Latina/o Studies minor)

Profession: Higher Education Administrator

Hometown: Duarte, California

What are you doing now?

I am the director for student diversity and belonging at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, within the division of student affairs, where I oversee programmatic and budgetary operations in addition to supervising professional staff who lead and implement identity-based, student-centered programming.

How did you get there?

I began my master’s program at Harvard Divinity School after graduating from Pomona. I needed to continue to pursue higher education given my formerly undocumented immigration status. I was a DACA recipient and was fortunate to be admitted to a grad program that provided me with financial aid. In my last year I became a graduate fellow for the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at Harvard College. This role introduced me to the world of higher ed student affairs with an EDI lens. As a first-generation, low-income Latina, I realized that I wanted to continue to work with college students to promote meaningful change within higher education institutions.

I got my first job at Harvard College working in academic affairs as a one-year administrative fellow. I learned everything I could about higher education and administrative leadership. By the time an EDI position opened within the Dean of Students department, I had networked with half of the people in my interviews. Although I felt young and inexperienced compared to the incumbent in this role, I landed the assistant director position and held this role for three years.

During my last year in this role, my office was greatly affected by the disparities of COVID-19, the rise of Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian hate crimes and the upcoming presidential election. I noticed early signs of mental health challenges and felt like my personal capacity was limited by the unsettling social-political climate followed by empathy fatigue from all the student support I was providing. I began talking with my spouse about what it would look like for us to move back to our warm home state of California.

How did Pomona prepare you?

College changed my life, which is why I yearn to create the conditions in which all students can not only survive but thrive in their higher education.

As an undergraduate I was involved in a variety of extracurricular student activities that have allowed me to thrive in my current work as a higher ed practitioner. I was a student activist involved in labor justice on campus, and I co-founded IDEAS, an immigrant rights student organization in support of undocumented students and allies. I worked as a student coordinator for the Draper Center for Community Partnerships and owe a lot of my social justice frameworks, leadership development and facilitation skills to the professional development I received from this role.

My experience serving as a Chicano Latino Student Affairs peer mentor paved the way for me to know how to become a staff point of contact for first-generation, low-income, Latinx and undocumented students. Witnessing the institutional barriers that we had to overcome as marginalized students gave me insight into how to work to break down these barriers to student success. Additionally, having close faculty and staff mentors, especially staff and faculty of color, gave me a model for the type of mentor I strive to continue to be throughout my career.

Pomona was the beginning of my empowerment journey. It’s where I was able to say, “I’m undocumented and unafraid” and where I embraced my Latina identity and reconnected with my Mexican heritage by joining Mariachi Serrano de Claremont Colleges. It’s where I experienced personal healing and spiritual growth through the Latinx fellowship of Claremont Christian Fellowship. It’s where, for the first time in my life, I was given access to student health insurance and introduced to student counseling services.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to become an executive director and to prepare for the next step in my career which will be to become an associate dean of students for student belonging or assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion. I hope to be enrolled in a doctoral program with a focus in higher education leadership and administration.

Any advice for current or prospective students?

My advice to first-generation, low-income and children of immigrant students is to remember that higher education is a delayed gratification investment which will allow you to help your family in the future. Despite feeling survivor’s guilt about the privileges and opportunities I had and almost giving up after graduating with my master’s degree only to still struggle to find a job, all of it has been worth it. These experiences taught me how to advise students like myself and remind me not to shy away from sharing the high and lows of my journey.

There are many alumni like myself who are willing to share our “how I made it” stories to instill hope in the next generation. I advise students to find your chosen family and network of support wherever you go. For many of us, our families have sacrificed so much to get us this far, and we need to find mentors to help us figure out the rest of the way.

I hope students give themselves permission to invest in their personal well-being as much as they care about their career aspirations. I encourage students to not compare themselves to others, especially when others have access to resources different from the ones they have. It’s okay if it takes you a little longer than others to figure things out, as long as you discover the type of work that fulfills you and allows you to come alive.