Passport on a suitcase
April 4, 2024

Have career goals. Will travel.

Recent graduates Jacqueline Aguirre De La O and Kathy Chacon are representing UCR, Latina women, and the Inland Empire on their international career journeys

Author: Sarah Nightingale
April 4, 2024

This summer, Jacqueline Aguirre De La O will begin a five-year Department of State fellowship that will pave the way for a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Soon after, Kathy Chacon will head to the United Kingdom to start a master’s in film studies as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

While the two UCR alums are pursuing different career paths, they share a few things in common: both are Latina women, both are first-generation college students from the Inland Empire, and both credit UC Riverside with supporting and empowering them on their educational journeys.

Read more about Aguirre and Chacon below and join them for a panel discussion hosted by Chancellor’s Research Fellows and CHASS. The panel, “Journey of Resiliency: UCR Latinas Growing Professionally through International Experiences,” will be Monday, April 15, at 11 a.m. in Humanities 1500 and is open to the campus community.

Jacqueline Aguirre De La O

Jacqueline Aguirre De La O
Jacqueline Aguirre De La O

Aguirre De La O, who graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, has been awarded a 2024 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship from the U.S. Department of State to begin a career in the Foreign Service.  

The competitive fellowship will enable Aguirre De La O to pursue a master’s degree at a university in Washington D.C. — she’s currently deciding between programs at Georgetown University and American University. The fellowship also includes a summer 2024 internship with a U.S. Congressmember and a summer 2025 internship with a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Upon completion of her master’s, Aguirre De La O will become a U.S. diplomat in 2026, embarking on a challenging and rewarding career in the Foreign Service. While she knows she’ll support the Foreign Service’s mission to “promote peace, prosperity, and human dignity around the world,” she has no idea where she’ll posted or what she’ll be doing. 

“I am excited to be a diplomat because I will have an opportunity to live and learn from different ethnic communities around the world — in places I may have never imagined I would live in.” Aguirre De La O said. “It is also important to show how diverse America truly is and bring diverse ideas to the table that will help advance foreign policy and foster mutual understanding between the U.S. and foreign nations.”

It won’t be Aguirre De La O’s first overseas experience. As a high school student at Riverside’s Norte Vista High school, she fell in love with Korean culture and K-pop. At UCR, she took on work-study position at the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies and served as a peer advisor for UCR’s Education Abroad office. In her junior year, she spent a semester studying in Seoul.

As her graduation approached, Aguirre De La O knew she wanted to return to South Korea, but wasn’t sure how. Gladis Herrera Berkowitz, director of UCR’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Engaged Learning, stepped in, encouraging her to apply for an English Teaching Assistantship grant from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

“I was nervous about applying because the Fulbright is a nationally competitive scholarship and I didn’t think I was qualified,” Aguirre De La O said. “Gladis encouraged me, and I decided to go ahead because no matter what happened I knew it would be good experience for applying to graduate school.”

Aguirre De La O was accepted, with travel postponed until 2022 because of the pandemic. While she was waiting, she accepted a work-from-home internship with the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Office. The experience working for and learning about the federal government planted the seed for her successful application to the Rangel Program, which she applied to after returning from her Fulbright in South Korea. 

Aguirre De La O recognized faculty and staff members across campus for their support and encouragement. Among them: David Biggs, professor of history; Carol Park, a graduate student and Aguirre De La O’s supervisor at the Young Oak Kim Center, Edward Chang, an ethnic studies professor and founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center, UCR’s Education Abroad Office, and the TRIO Scholars program, which provides support to first-generation and minority students. A special thank you goes to Herrera Berkowitz:

“Gladis has always supported and motivated me. I feel like it wasn’t for Gladis I wouldn’t have applied to any of these things,” Aguirre De La O said.

Kathy Chacon
Kathy Chacon

Kathy Chacon

Chacon, who graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in media and cultural studies, has been selected as a 2024 Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge.

Chacon will pursue a master’s degree in film and screen studies and continue research she started as an undergraduate exploring the representation of women in film. Her long-term goals is to become a professor and producer championing diverse stories that bring positive change.

“Throughout my education, I have observed a lack of prominent Latina film scholars, and I hope to change that,” she said.

Chacon, who graduated from Patriot High School in Jurupa Valley, described her UCR experience as “pure magic.”

As an undergraduate, she participated in study abroad programs in Rome, Japan and London, and pursued various internships, including serving as an ambassador for Java City Coffee through a partnership between the coffee retailer and UCR’s Dining Services. She worked on campus during all four years of her studies — as a cashier at campus stores and a student data analyst for the Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research. 

In her final year, Chacon became a Gluck Fellow of the Arts, where she helped address the negative effects of media on body image, self-esteem, and beauty standards through a free workshop developed for local middle school aged girls.

“As a first-generation American and first-generation college student I never felt out of place at UCR,” Chacon said, recognizing professors Setsu Shigematsu and Gloria Kim for boosting her confidence and self-worth. “UCR was my oyster, a place with opportunity at every corner.”

The support Chacon received at UCR was echoed during her three-month, scholarship-funded study abroad experience at Queen Mary University of London.

“One of my lecturers reached out after reading my final exam paper to send me encouraging words on my writing and say that I should pursue graduate studies,” Chacon said. 

Chacon applied to both Cambridge and Columbia University. She was accepted to both and set her heart on Cambridge.

“The only thing that was holding me back was money because I was not offered funding from the university and would have had to take out the entire cost of the program through loans — a decision that would have left me in debt for decades and cost me over $100,000 in interest alone,” Chacon said.

Without other options, Chacon made the painful decision to withdraw her application. However, with encouragement from a friend she’d met in London, she applied to Cambridge again, this time scrambling to meet the Gates Scholarship deadline.

“The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is one of the most generous postgraduate scholarships in the world. And to me, it meant the difference between getting a Cambridge education or not, Chacon said. “I poured my heart into my application, and when I received the notification that I was selected as a finalist, I poured my heart into preparing for the final interview. Gates Cambridge is my lifeline. I’m deeply honored to join the 2024 cohort. I’m overflowing with gratitude and joy.”


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