Hi, I'm Santiago.
I come from Cali, Colombia, a large city near the Andes mountains. I grew up on mountain bike trails, jagged sunsets, and a city of mestizaje, a mix of many cultures. Cali, and Colombia at large, is a place of contrasts: warm and welcoming people, and unpalatable rates of inequality and violence. I bear these tensions within me. I was fortunate to study Math and Francophone Studies in the U.S. as an undergraduate, and then I went back to Cali to work as an English and a High School Math teacher for five years. Now, I return to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s that will equip me with knowledge, skills, and mindsets that will help me bring about change back home.
On a more personal note, I have a younger brother, Esteban, and two cousins that I consider my siblings. I have two rescue dogs, Macarena and Kay, that we are working tirelessly to bring to the U.S. I am happily married to Natalia, who joined me on this journey with hope and courage.
Questions and Answers
What are you studying?
I am currently working towards my Master’s in Education Policy and Leadership. It is a one-year program and I expect to graduate in the coming spring. I am interested in exploring how teachers, school leaders and educational actors in general use evidence and data to support their decision-making processes. What types of data and evidence do they use? For what purposes? How can data be used in equitable and ethical ways to improve teaching and learning in schools? This is where my interests in data science intersect with education and policymaking.
What I find most meaningful about my studies is to work with other people that are actively trying to make our world a better place. I feel that the people around me are very committed to addressing the opportunity gap and tackling the historical injustices that reproduce systems of advantage and disadvantage. Whether we are discussing the philosophical foundations of research, debating teacher evaluation policies, or simply caring for one another with an extra cup of coffee, I am grateful to be a part of a community of mindful educators.
What impact would you like your work to have?
I would like to address the inequitable and inefficient distribution of resources in education systems back in Colombia. I want to strengthen the improvement cycles of district education systems and public schools so that policy and school-level decisions are rooted in diverse sources of evidence rather than unsystematic intuition. I want to further teacher data literacy and promote support systems in which teachers, as the primary agents of change, can lead transformation in their communities. Well supported teachers with timely, actionable data can help prioritize interventions, identify areas of growth, and mitigate biased decisions.
Who inspires and motivates you?
On a personal level, my mom inspires me and pushes me to grow. She is my most adamant supporter, even when I don’t think I can do it. Her determination, grit, and consistency push me to overcome my daily fears and challenges. My dad also played a significant role in my life. He instilled in me a mindset of care and service, and I try my best to live up to these ideals wherever I go.
On a different note, the thousands of people back in Colombia who work tirelessly to make our education better every day give meaning to my work. Teachers working after hours, leaders pushing through tough decisions, and public officers navigating constraining bureaucracies. The collective effort is what sustains learning for millions of people. Finally, the current progressive government in Colombia is also a source of recurrent inspiration. There is hope for greater investments in education at all levels and a clear political will to make education a national priority, especially as we transition to peace after decades of violent conflict. Many people are working towards more equitable and prosperous futures – and I want to actively do my part.
How do you balance your studies with other areas of your life?
I learned in the past to add my meals to my calendar. Sometimes we forget how essential that time is, and we don’t prioritize it enough! So, I have my lunch booked recurrently in my calendar and make sure I stop what I’m doing and have my well-deserved meal. I’m also trying my best to get small doses of exercise each day. I was into jumping rope early this term and now I’m back to swimming. For me, the trick is to find a buddy to exercise with: together, we support and keep each other accountable.
In terms of joys and challenges, I think my cultural readaptation to the U.S. has been both pleasant and difficult. I think I am much more interculturally aware and thus able to navigate being an international student more successfully than in the past. Moving here as a family unit with my partner has been amazing and complex: exciting new opportunities, unforeseen challenges, mutual support, and navigating the cold winters of the North. So far, we have felt very welcomed in Eugene.
Where is your favorite place on campus to study, find inspiration, garner motivation, or stay focused?
My favorite place to study on campus is the graduate student lounge in the College of Education. There is a small kitchen, a comfy couch, and a couple of well-lit tables. I really enjoyed the balcony during the summer and early fall. It is a great place for an outdoor lunch! Although I really enjoy quiet spaces, the third floor of the Union has been another great place to study. I love the natural light coming through the huge windows and seeing other people study hard and have lovely conversations is also uplifting. You feel like you have company all the time.
What advice do you have for future students?
I would say focus on what is meaningful to you. I believe we are sustained by our own internal and limited energy, and though we might be tempted to take advantage of the great opportunities we can find here, going all in can be counterproductive. Engage in ways that are sustainable in the long run and make space for what recharges and keeps you going. Also, talk to your peers! We are all trying to make the best out of this academic experience and tending to our professional futures. We all have fears, anxieties, and different degrees of imposter syndrome. Gravitate towards people with whom you can be vulnerable and have meaningful conversations and aim to grow and support each other. Being intentional about building community can take you a very long way.