Stephanie Palafox went to Reality Changers from 8th-12th grade while she attended Mira Mesa High School. She graduated from Reality Changers in 2014, and graduated with a degree in Psychology and Social Behavior from UC Irvine in June 2020.
How has your community supported you through your education? Tell me about your family and the role they played in your life.
I’m one of four sisters. My sisters also went through Reality Changers’ programs. My oldest sister attended CSU San Marcos, my second oldest sister attended UC Riverside and finished her masters at San Diego State, and my younger sister is currently a freshman at San Diego State.
We’ve always prioritized education. My sisters and I have these intellectual conversations late into the night and it’s wild because our ancestors and our parents weren’t able to be given these opportunities when it comes to education. So we’re really grateful for it. When I went to community college, it wasn’t what was expected of me but we’re able to support one another even when we disagree about each others’ decisions . I’m really grateful that we all like school and it’s something we all have in common.
Where are you currently in your education and career?
I currently work for the San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital as a mental health worker, and I work as a prenatal case manager for the Family Health Center San Diego.
A couple months ago I wanted to look into grad school programs, but, with COVID, I thought it was a great chance to apply what I know and what I’ve been taught by working for a while. When COVID is over, I want to go back to school. I’ve always liked school and the school setting, but not online. I need that in-person contact. As an extrovert, I thought, let me put that aside for now and gain experience that will hopefully make me a stronger candidate for when I do enroll into a grad school program.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of graduating from my community college. I spent a lot of time, effort, tears, and laughter there, and I’m proud of sticking through it. Another accomplishment I’m proud of is graduating from University of California Irvine. A lot of things shifted in my last semester due to COVID and it was really tough.
I’m also proud of finding the jobs that I’m working at today. When I graduated, I started as a COVID researcher, but I didn’t like the job, and left without having another job lined up, but I knew that it wasn’t about the job, it’s about listening to my inner self, and now I know that leaving was the right decision.
I think my biggest accomplishment through all this is listening to my inner voice without the influence of other people. At the end of the day, I know what I need to get done, and I’m going to get it done.
How has COVID impacted you and have you been able to stay connected to Reality Changers during this time?
When COVID happened, I moved back home and had to finish school online. I’m not the best quiz/test taker, and with it being online it was even more difficult. I had to work harder to connect with my professors and mentors. Patty, the Director of the Reality Changers Alumni Network at the time, connected me with the Alumni Network Mentor Program, and it has been a way to stay connected. Even though I now am really busy with work, I can take 30-45 mins to check in with my mentor. We learn about each other and talk about things like having a healthy lifestyle and financial literacy — things that I won’t get in other areas of my life. It’s a different kind of mentorship than I’m used to because it’s both professional and natural. I’ve had mentors before, but this is a new type of mentorship with her, which I really like.
The mission of Reality Changers is to prepare students to become first-generation college graduates and agents of change in their communities. Do you consider yourself an agent of change?
I think I have been, but I also believe I’m a learner and that there’s still a lot of ways down the road that I can be an agent of change.
I do think I made a lot of personal changes that have affected other people in some small way. I advocated for Community College [to be included as a post-high school option for Reality Changers students] when I was in RC and it wasn’t common yet. I was a peer educator at the counseling centers at UCI and at my community college, and whether it was walking with students to the counseling center, or having dialogue about mental health because it’s taboo – those small experiences are making change, and those conversations change me.
Why do you think programs like Reality Changers’ are important?
I think programs like Reality Changers are important for communities like where I was raised. I was born and raised in Logan Heights/Barrio Logan, and there’s not a lot of people here who go to college or have the opportunity to go to college. “University” is like a foreign word. I believe it’s important for Reality Changers to keep doing the work because, at the end of the day, Reality Changers is able to get a student to a university that feels like home, where they feel it’s right, or is able to connect them to a job that they really like and they can build up from there.
It’s these programs that give students the opportunity to be a better person so they’re able to influence other people and everyone can go and make something of themselves, whatever that looks like. It’s important for students at a young age to dream of accomplishing –whatever it is that they want to accomplish– and give themselves a chance.
Stephanie’s responses have been edited for clarity.