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Giving Back to Her Alma Mater

August 26, 2019

Growing up in Carson, California, Liliana “Lili” Iglesias ’12 remembered her mom saying often to her, “When you go to college….” This message ingrained in Lili the thought that she would go to college someday. Then, in middle school, her mom admitted to her, “I don’t know what [going to college] means, so try and ask your teachers and counselors how you can get there.”

Lili was an only child. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Her mom had gone to college in Mexico, but her dad hadn’t. At school in the US, particularly when it came to figuring out the path to college, Lili did have to rely on her counselors and teachers for support. They were how she first learned about UC Berkeley.

“I didn’t know what Berkeley was until a 10th grade field trip,” Lili recalls. Every other year, teachers from her school would take students up to visit UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and San Francisco State. Lili remembers fundraising to go on the trip, during which she fell in love with the Cal campus.

Lili applied to several colleges, including Cal and small, liberal arts schools, but upon being admitted to UC Berkeley—and receiving the Gates Millennium Scholarship as well as The Achievement Award Program (TAAP) scholarship from the Cal Alumni Association—it was a “no-brainer,” in her words, to attend.

Lili with her parents at graduation.

Lili remembers how proud her mom was. “But my dad actually didn’t want me to go to Cal,” she admits. Her family lived about five miles away from California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her dad used to say, “Why go five hours away when you can just go five miles away and stay here?” Lili knew her dad didn’t quite understand the differences between the two schools, but she insisted upon moving to Berkeley to grow, and to make her parents proud.

At Cal, Lili majored in social welfare. “I always knew I wanted to go into a helping profession after what I saw and experienced in my community,” she says. “I always wanted to give back.” Initially, Lili considered becoming a high school counselor to support students, and their families and communities, through the full transition of going to college.

Lili’s experiences at Berkeley, however, made her realize that the challenge of sending students from communities like hers to institutions like UC Berkeley wasn’t just getting access. As she watched many of her friends drop out of school, she recognized that the challenge also encompassed retention. “Students need support and to feel like they belong on campus to not drop out.”

Lili found her own support system and community through TAAP and its programs, like the big/little peer mentorship program. “I met some of my really close friends through TAAP,” she recalls. “I still remember going to events with my big who I was paired with, and going with TAAP-sters to my first concert in the Bay Area.”

Lili with TAAP students from the class of 2012.
Lili with TAAP students from the class of 2012. | Image courtesy of Liliana Iglesias

TAAP played an instrumental role in Lili’s success at Cal. She felt like she could thrive among the community of students who shared similar backgrounds to hers, and she felt empowered by the support of full-time TAAP staff members. Everyone in the TAAP community, from students to full-time staff, showed care and intention through their actions—which in turn, inspired Lili to do the same. She channels the approach and energy she recalls seeing in TAAP program managers into her own work on campus as the program director for the Undocumented Student Program.

After graduating from Cal, Lili earned her master’s degree in educational counseling at USC before finding a job at UC Santa Cruz, and then making her way back to Berkeley. “My goal [after graduating] was always to come back to Cal,” Lili shares. “I thought, ‘What better place to come back to than to the university that gave so much to me, to give back?’”

When Lili was at Cal, her parents were undocumented, and one remains undocumented to this day. Serving undocumented students at Cal hits close to home. “I want to recognize that each student has their own experience…and also provide them that support and comfort, so they know that regardless of policies or structures in general, there are still beautiful things to be resilient for in the community,” Lili stresses. “[The students] have what it takes to make it, but sometimes they just need a few additional support systems.”

“We have more room to grow and bring in students from more diverse backgrounds who want to do better for their

While UC Berkeley now has more programs to support students who are underrepresented minorities or from low-income backgrounds, as well as undocumented students, Lili recognizes the importance of supporting and creating more programs like TAAP. “There’s always more work to do. There’s always more potential and more to reach for.

“The needs [that TAAP was created to meet 20 years ago] are now different. We have more room to grow and bring in students from more diverse backgrounds who want to do better for their communities.”