Preparing students beyond the book 

Levi Gutierrez gets critical professional experience while completing their undergraduate education.

Levi Gutierrez is taking advantage of opportunities to use and apply what they are learning in their classes to real-world settings — and in preparation for life after graduation. 

Learning by doing is at the heart of a University of Washington Bothell education. In the past year, Gutierrez, an Educational Studies major, has gotten experience working both as a peer facilitator for a class titled Place & Displacement in the Americas and as an intern at Sno-Isle Libraries. 

“While I am still unsure of what exactly I want to do after graduating, my experiences have shown me that I want to work with marginalized, underprivileged students in higher education because it reflects my own background,” they said. “And one day, years from now, I would love to be a professor.” 

Connections in the classroom 

Gutierrez is a first-generation student, meaning they are the first in their family to earn a four-year degree. And at the start of their academic journey, they struggled with imposter syndrome, a sense of persistent self-doubt and fear of exposure as a fraud. “I had no idea what I was doing or if I even belonged,” Gutierrez said. “It was really hard, but gradually, with time, I began to find my confidence.” 

A senior now, Gutierrez wanted to help students who might be in the same position and so signed up to serve as a peer facilitator for first-year students in Place & Displacement in the Americas. The autumn quarter class was taught by Dr. Yolanda Padilla, associate professor, and Dr. Julie Shayne, teaching professor, both in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. Shayne said of Gutierrez, “Levi connected to our students not just as a first-generation student but also a student who had sat in a similar classroom just a few years prior. 

“They knew exactly how the students felt. It’s not just being first generation but first generation at UW Bothell. And on top of that, Levi has been a student of mine and of Dr. Padilla’s multiple times, so they know what it’s like from that perspective,” Shayne said. “I think for the students who really took advantage of Levi’s presence and expertise, they got more out of the class. 

“Levi was able to communicate to the students not to be intimidated by us. They could tell the students the resources on campus that really help, how to use our office hours — all the things that we would say over and over but had more value coming from a peer who had navigated their first year just like they were doing.” 

Marks of a mentor

Throughout the quarter students turned to Gutierrez not just for advice but also for support. “One student, who like me is first generation, was struggling with what major to choose. They had multiple interests and felt a lot of pressure to make a decision but felt that in doing so they would ultimately have to sacrifice their other passions,” Gutierrez said. 

“I reminded the student that we don’t live in a bubble, that there is overlap between almost every major — Health Studies can benefit Law, Economics & Public Policy; Law, Economics & Public Policy can benefit Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies; and so on. Nothing is black and white, and I encouraged the student to not write off any of their passions and instead to explore how those passions can be used together to achieve a greater purpose.” 

This is emblematic of Gutierrez’s own educational journey. In addition to majoring in Educational Studies, they are also minoring in GWSS. “The courses in my minor expanded my understanding of the complex intersecting identities that people hold, especially in contexts of social and political power.” 

According to Gutierrez, it has been helpful to use this lens alongside their degree in Educational Studies in many ways — such as understanding the identities of students and educators, who in education holds power and which voices have been devalued or shunned versus those that have been uplifted. 

I encouraged the student to not write off any of their passions and instead to explore how those passions can be used together to achieve a greater purpose.

Levi Gutierrez, senior, Educational Studies

Impacts in the future

Just as Gutierrez made an impact on the students, the professors made an impact on Gutierrez. 

From observing Padilla and Shayne, even as a student they found a number of teaching approaches they hope to carry forward to their own practice, such as creating space for the quiet students. 

Gutierrez explained that the professors always asked the most shy student to speak in class. “I liked that a lot. I was, at one point, that shy kid who was asked to share,” Gutierrez said. “I looked around at all my peers who were so confident and outspoken, and I just felt myself go into my own little bubble. 

“Dr. Shayne and Dr. Padilla brought me out of that bubble, and it was powerful to see them do the same for other students and then watch the students grow and become more and more confident. They are my inspiration. They are the reason that I want to be a professor one day.” 

Coursework in community

Applying their personal story and learning in Padilla and Shayne’s class was such an enriching experience that Gutierrez sought out an internship with the Sno-Isle Libraries during winter quarter. Their minor in GWSS proved especially beneficial in their work curating books on “Feminist Theory through Literature” for the library website. 

“The list is composed of primarily BIPOC authors and their work in intersecting studies of feminism, including but not limited to global, ethnic and queer studies,” they explained. 

The booklist could have been on any topic, but Gutierrez chose feminist theory because their GWSS classes put great emphasis on reading books by women of color. Gutierrez also wanted to highlight artists and authors who don’t normally get the spotlight, a practice they want to use as an educator in the future. 

“I made sure to put the books that shaped my college career on that list, with a special nod to Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldúa, a book that details the invisible ‘borders’ that exist between Latinas/os and non-Latinas/os, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and other groups. That’s a book I keep going back to — and have read over and over again.” 

Learn and share 

Through the internship, Gutierrez shared not only books but also valuable information pertaining to mental health, including at an outreach event titled, “You Are Not Alone.” 

The educational event took place at the Mukilteo Recreation Department and was organized in partnership with the Snohomish County Children’s Wellness Coalition. Attendees could get training on warning signs of suicide and suicide prevention as well as resources on everything from support services to therapy dogs and food. 

Gutierrez managed the library table and connected with community members while distributing pamphlets on the library and mental health resources. “The event was really eye-opening for me,” Gutierrez said. “Since I want to work with young adults, I found the information to be extremely valuable. 

“It also made me consider working with similar organizations that help vulnerable communities in the interim before I become a professor.” 

A committed educator 

Looking back on their time as a peer facilitator and an intern, Gutierrez expressed gratitude for the applied learning experiences made available to students at UW Bothell. 

“Both my roles have shaped not only my educational journey but my future, as well. They allowed me to work with many marginalized youths and reaffirmed that this is what I want to do. 

“It would be a dream to one day return as a professor and give back to the University all the skills, knowledge and confidence it has given me.” 

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