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Overcoming Challenges on the Road to Cal

March 2, 2021

A Day in the Lives of Alumni Scholars Daniel Muñoz and Anara Myrzabekova

The Cal Alumni Association’s one-year, merit based scholarship, The Leadership Award (TLA), recognizes undergraduate students at UC Berkeley who demonstrate innovative, initiative-driven leadership impacting their academic, work, or community environments.

We talked to two recipients of this year’s TLA scholarship, Daniel (Danny) Muñoz ’22 and Anara Myrzabekova ’22, about their journeys to Cal.

Daniel (Danny) Muñoz

Danny doing work and classes over Zoom at home. | Image courtesy of Daniel Muñoz

After being shot five times in relation to gang violence in 2016, Danny decided to enroll in Chabot Community College, found a passion for sociology, gave the keynote address at Chabot’s Commencement Ceremony as an honors student, and transferred to Cal in 2020.

To get ready for a day of classes and meetings, Danny takes a walk around his block before cracking open a Monster energy drink. He is currently taking classes in sociology and public policy, in addition to being a George A. Miller Scholar. “My research, which I want to carry throughout my time at Berkeley and hopefully through a PhD program, is about how teacher-student interactions influence children’s trajectories.”

Having grown up in a disadvantaged family in Oakland and San Leandro, Danny seeks to use his background and education to give back by ultimately opening an organization that caters to at-risk youth. “I kind of fell victim to my surroundings and went through the wringer with legal and societal issues that I thought I was destined for. There wasn’t a lot in terms of guidance for me. I wanted to focus my work on youth because I thought a lot about how the problems in my community stem from early experiences in life.” Already actively involved in community service, Danny works as a transfer coordinator for Berkeley Underground Scholars, an academic-support program at Cal that is building a “prison-to-school pipeline.”

With class ending at 6 p.m., Danny spends the rest of the evening unwinding by watching TV, working on his music, and spending time with his kids. “I have two boys that I see regularly and I try to give them what I didn’t have and stay involved in their lives.” Danny has always enjoyed making music: “My music is getting lighter from when I was gang-involved as time progresses. It’s something about getting aggression out from past experiences and even from stress and frustration in current life.” As a first-generation student, father of six, and a TLA and Achievement Award Program Scholar, Danny feels supported at Cal: “The CAA program staff and Cal alumni I’ve interacted with have been very inclusive of who I am, and I have nothing but love for them.”

Anara Myrzabekova

Anara with her husband, Arafat, and their 6 month old son, Ryan, at the Welcome Event for the Berkeley Summer Experience Program. 2019. | Image courtesy of Anara Myrzabekova

Initially immigrating to Alabama from Kyrgyzstan by herself at 18, Anara became a leader in her community college’s honor society before finding her way to Cal as a junior transfer in 2020.

Anara starts her mornings at 5 a.m. by making a list of the day’s tasks and preparing her son for daycare. With class starting at 10 a.m., she spends the afternoon attending lectures, doing homework, and working on extracurricular projects. Despite feeling the effects of imposter syndrome as a result of the stigma against women in STEM in her home country, Anara is studying data science in hopes of “becoming an expert in the field and working in tech.”

She is already making these goals a reality through her involvement as a Fung Fellow and a New Face of Tech Scholarship Program recipient, through which she receives funding and mentorship from a Berkeley data-science alum. As a fellow in Berkeley’s Fung Institute Fellowship Program, Anara aims to “grow as a leader and innovate a design for social good.” She discussed her health-related semester project: “The project I presented was about social isolation. We partnered with UC Berkeley to interview students and find out the major issues that they were currently experiencing.”

I found out that when they were looking at me, they were looking at themselves when they were younger. So I was imagining myself being one of them and interviewing someone when I’m an alum.

Anara Myrzabekova

In the evenings, Anara picks up her son from daycare, prepares dinner, and finishes any outstanding work. “I think it’s challenging to be a mom and also be a student. For example, my baby turned two on December 7, but I couldn’t celebrate his birthday because I had finals.” Still, Anara’s family and goals are what motivate her: “A big motivation is my baby, and he motivates me without knowing it.” Embodying the values of the TLA scholarship, Anara hopes to use her experiences and studies to not only “become a role model for women and other minorities in STEM,” but to “make [her] family proud and provide a better future for [her] son.”

“I had a really good experience when talking to Cal alumni during my interview,” Anara reflects. “I found out that when they were looking at me, they were looking at themselves when they were younger. So I was imagining myself being one of them and interviewing someone when I’m an alum.”

by Sasha Kolesnikov

Sasha Kolesnikov is a sophomore at Cal double majoring in political science and society and environment. She is interested in the intersection of socially responsible business, politics, and law. She is a current Alumni Scholar in The Achievement Award Program and a student assistant at the Cal Alumni Association.

Danny with his “old school” car, a 1964 Chevy Impala. | Image courtesy of Daniel Muñoz; Anara and her husband, Arafat, celebrating her Cal acceptance letter on April 17th, 2020. | Image courtesy of Anara Myrzabekova