Public Service is Local and Global


Sonia Hurtado Ureno, Sociology and Latin American Studies ’17

2017 Leo T. McCarthy Award for Public Service Award Winner


My identities as a low income, first generation Latina have heavily shaped my experiences navigating the K-12 and higher education system. Through my involvement with the Leo T. McCarthy Center, I came to better understand my story in relation to larger systems of oppression. I have come to see myself as both a global and local activist scholar and someone who is committed to community engagement.

In my second year, I participated in the Privett Global Scholars Program, a year-long program that involves community-based sustainable development projects abroad. I collaborated with Bolivian community members to create and lead workshops on protection rights for children  with the grassroots organization, Aldeas Infantiles SOS. For my final research paper, I conducted a case study on Bolivia’s educational system and examined whether a western-based educational system could appropriately honor the epistemologies of the indigenous people in Bolivia. Writing my final paper was a transformational experience for me as a writer and scholar. I discovered that I could use my knowledge and skills to better understand systems of oppression and to bring awareness to the experiences of the marginalized domestically and abroad. Furthermore, I learned to recognize community assets and use those as a foundation to continue to make an impact.

Most recently, I have had the honor of being an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE). As an ACE, I work with a team of eleven to support an array of local non-profits, USF faculty, and students in service learning courses. I work directly with Mission Graduates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increase college access and success to students in the Mission District. There, I have collaborated with the staff to support twenty-five first-generation students with their college applications. These opportunities have contributed to my own growth as an educator. I’ve learned that education is not just about merit, but also about helping others develop their voices and their own definitions of success.


I plan to remain engaged in public service and committed to social justice after graduation by continuing to support first-generation college students and people of color in any space that I may find myself in. I will continue to collaborate with and challenge others in my workspace to address institutional inequalities and create resources for marginalized communities.

Life-long conversations on neighborhoods, housing and gentrification

David Donahue, Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

David Donahue
Director, Leo T. McCarthy Center

Community-engaged learning claims many student benefits like making learning relevant by bridging theory and practice, promoting openness to multiple perspectives, and fostering dispositions to further community involvement. As I reflect on my community-engaged learning in college over three decades ago, one measure of that learning’s value sticks with me — enduring questions that I’ve considered for a lifetime since. One question that was first posed in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1980s has stayed with me for decades is especially relevant in San Francisco in 2015: Who can claim a neighborhood?

As an undergraduate student doing research on the history of buildings for a local preservation society, I remember talking with one of the society’s leaders about how in the neighborhood I was researching, Portuguese immigrants and their families were being displaced by what were then called “yuppies.” Responding to my concern and sense of loss in this change, she said, “No group is entitled to live somewhere forever.” At the time, I was taken aback, but I’ve never stopped asking the question, “Whose neighborhood — and why?” As a resident of a block bridging the Mission and the Castro, the question has personal relevance. Is the Castro always to be a gay neighborhood — even as more heterosexual families move in? As the Latino population of the Mission continues to decline, will that neighborhood lose its current identity? As a resident of gentrifying (gentrified?) San Francisco, I ask these questions, knowing that both the Castro and Mission had other identities before their current ones.

I’m grateful for my community-engaged learning experience in college because my faculty advisor helped put my questions into conversation with other related questions about neighborhood identity. This led to other questions about the right to housing and to community based on identity; questions about how cities evolve and whether that evolution can or should be channeled, stopped, slowed down, or sped up. The answers I’ve developed to these questions inform everything from the calculus of where I live (Does my presence contribute to changing the character of the neighborhood? Does it change the availability of rental housing stock?) to how I vote (Will this referendum preserve valued characteristics of the neighborhood? Will it make it harder for others to find housing?). The programs at the Leo T. McCarthy Center are committed to fostering this kind of reflection about important policy matters that lasts a lifetime.

David Donahue - Director, Leo T. McCarthy Center