GGSE: You were a Promise Scholar as an undergraduate here at UCSB. What did that program mean to you?
Elena Barragan: Being a first-generation college student and having the opportunity to have been a Promise Scholar as an undergraduate here at UCSB meant everything to me because of the educational opportunities I was given. When I transferred from Santa Barbara City College in 2020, I was unsure if I’d be able to transfer anywhere because of the high cost of tuition. Having the academic potential to thrive but not the money to keep pursuing through my education was challenging. Opening that letter from the Promise Scholar Program shortly after graduating from SBCC was the most pivotal moment in my educational journey. Being a Promise Scholar meant more than just a free education. It meant there would always be a safe space for me on campus to feel comfortable to keep pursuing my academic goals. I can never thank Holly Roose, Mike Miller AKA Jefe, and the entire Promise Scholars Community for allowing this safe space for me to thrive not only in my academics, but as a person. Being a first-generation college student has been the hardest thing because as I stepped onto UCSB’s campus for the first time, I was entering unknown territory which was a challenge. With the help from this program, I have been able to thrive in my education as an undergraduate so much, that I received the first ever Promise Scholars Fellowship as a graduate student to be able to take my education a step further by joining the Teacher Education Program here at UCSB where I will once again graduate debt free while earning my Masters in Education and a Teaching Credential. I am forever grateful for this opportunity and this program means so much to me that I’ll be taking on the role as a mentor for the undergraduates in the Promise Scholar Program to give back to my community.
GGSE: What made you want to be a teacher (and please be specific as to the credential you are working on, too)?
Barragan: Attending underfunded and overcrowded schools during my K-12 years was challenging. Getting to school each day in an environment where you felt judged because of the color of your skin with stigmatized labels around you no longer made me enjoy school, but fear it. My elementary and middle school teachers were very apathetic, and it made me feel disengaged from not only the curriculum, but the classroom environment. School was always challenging for me because it can be very hard to learn in an environment like this. I never even pondered the thought of college once I graduated because my K-12 experience ruined whatever little motivation I had to keep going. It wasn’t until June of 2016 when I moved with my partner’s family to Santa Barbara to enroll in Santa Barbara City College. During this time, I needed what I thought was going to be a summer job at the United Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County and it turned out to kickstart my career. Everyday when I walk in to clock in, it feels like more than just a job, because I enjoy working with these youth, because I see a piece of myself in every child. I connect with them, because I lead by example. Seeing the positive impact that I have established in Old Town Goleta and allowing for my classroom to be a safe space for all of my students regardless of their socioeconomic status, age, gender, and ethnicity, is what influenced me to change my major and career path from Criminology to Sociology and Education. Getting to promote educational programs and develop my own lesson plans for them based on their needs, and seeing them thrive not only academically, but also as persons is the best thing I have ever encountered. Working specifically with K-6th grade everyday for the past six years has fueled my passion to pursue a career in teaching by earning my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. I want to be the kind of teacher that I know I would have needed desperately during my K-5th years and I hope to one day remain in Santa Barbara County where I will give back to this community by teaching in it to empower our future generations of leaders.
GGSE: Who was your favorite teacher in your life, and why?
Barragan: My favorite teacher in my life was my 12th grade yearbook teacher, Mrs. Groty. I admired her because she allowed us a creative space to develop the yearbook together. Whether it was writing pieces for the pages or creating collages, she was always encouraging with what we came up with. My favorite thing was getting to go out on lunch and break and take photos on our camera for the yearbook and then having her help us pick out the best ones. Her enthusiasm was what made my high school experience memorable.
GGSE: If you have any free time (we realize how consuming TEP is), how do you like to spend it?
Barragan: When I do have freetime, I really enjoy cooking and baking. When I’m in the kitchen experimenting with recipes, I find this to be the best way for me to not only relax, but to promote self care because I’m able to nurture myself mentally and physically. My favorite things to cook range from different types of pasta like eggplant parmigiana, baked ziti, stuffed shells, to traditional Mexican dishes like caldo de res, birria, and ceviche. My favorite things to bake are different types of cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, and I do all of this with the help of my wonderful Kitchenaid mixer! When I’m not baking or cooking to relax, I love to spend time with my partner and my two dogs that I have, Violet and Athena!