Daniela Conde isn’t afraid of heights. In fact, the higher the climb, the better.
Each step up honors Ilde, a single parent who gave her daughter life, love and the inspiration to pursue her dreams. Reaching for the top is a life lesson Daniela consistently applies so that her three younger sisters, ages 7, 11 and 13, have a role model they know and can trust to show them the right path.
Daniela, entering her junior year as an English and Ethnic Studies major at the University of San Diego, is on the right path. And it goes beyond just getting a good education — it’s about what you do with it.
“I really try to encourage them and show them that through higher education and the research I’ve done, you can really transform the way you think, the way you want to see the world and the way you want to be part of that world,” she said.
“I see myself now as someone who’s going places and meeting people, but not really forgetting her community. It’s like what the activist Angela Davis said, ‘you have to lift others as you climb.’ You can’t leave other people behind. That’s something I’ve really taken in.”
Reaching the present, though, required Conde to rely on her desire, her faith and the help of the San Diego nonprofit organization, Reality Changers.
Founded by USD alumnus Christopher Yanov, Reality Changers, based in City Heights and Solana Beach, the mission is simple: “to provide inner-city youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with the resources to become first-generation college students by supplying academic support, financial assistance and leadership training.”
Conde, who joined Reality Changers’ Solana Beach site in 2006, said it gave her a better sense of direction.
“As a high school student I was very much into academics, community service and extracurricular activities, but I didn’t know how to apply to college, how to get there and the logistics you don’t know as a first-generation student,” she said. “Reality Changers was the perfect place for me to find resources otherwise not available to students who can’t afford it.”
Academic rigor at Torrey Pines High School, a supportive atmosphere at Reality Changers and a Gates Millennium Scholarship, given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, made her dream of attending a private institution a reality.
“When I received the acceptance letter from USD, I felt happy and I felt blessed. I knew this was the right place to go. I really liked knowing that I could form relationships with professors who could help me grow intellectually and personally.”
Gail Perez, professor of English and Ethnic Studies at USD, is a mentor. “Working with Daniela is a privilege. She’s a fine writer and thinker and she is passionate about her studies. As with so many students of color, her life experiences have given her direction and urgency in her work. She understands how education can give her the power to create the changes she wishes to see. Education is about more than getting a job. For her, it’s a way to transform the world, even if only in one small community.”
Sociology Professor Judith Liu, Conde’s freshman preceptor in fall 2010, has been impressed from the start.
“As a Gates Millennium Scholar, she came in with high expectations. Although she was accepted at other institutions, Daniela chose USD because she wanted to have a more personal connection with her professors and to be more embedded into the campus community. Daniela has become a true leader on campus. Her strengths are her passion, persistence and patience.”
Conde balances academics, activities and leadership roles very well. She’s done community outreach for USD’s MEChA and AChA chapters; she worked on an Ethnic Studies class book/map project to educate others about Chicano Park’s mural paintings and she helped paint a mural within the Department of Ethnic Studies’ office in Maher Hall. Conde works with first-year and transfer USD students in the Link Peer Mentoring Program and was a mentor for youth at the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility.
“Daniela has a special commitment to the youth of her community,” Perez said. “She’s deeply pained by the violence and lack of options that they face. As an insider, she can establish rapport with them; and, as an ‘outsider’ by virtue of her education, she can offer them a different vision of their future.”
This vision is shaped by experiences such as studying abroad. Conde took an art history class in Florence, Italy last January through USD’s sophomore-exclusive Second-Year Experience study abroad program. Next week she’ll be on Semester at Sea, a 100-plus-day ship excursion enabling college students to take courses while also visiting 12 countries and expanding their international knowledge.
The trip comes soon after Conde is completing a summer research project she’s done as a member of USD’s McNair Scholars program. She delved into research on strong female leaders and centered it around African-American civil and human rights activist Ella Josephine Baker.
She learned more about Baker in an Ethnic Studies class with USD Professor May Fu and, after talking with Perez and Liu, the project consumed her this summer. Liu thought the project was a good fit, sensing that Conde liked the idea as a tribute to her personal hero.
“The inspiration for her project on strong women leaders is her own mother,” Liu said. “She has such admiration for her mother who has sacrificed so much to ensure that her daughters obtain the educational opportunities she, herself, has never had.”
Conde presented her project at the Aug. 16 UC San Diego Summer Research Conference. She said the experience was another step up the ladder and another chance to lift others as she climbed.
“I’m excited because it’s another hurdle I’m going over, another chance to empower myself. And if I can do it, I can share this experience with my sisters so they can do it, too.”
— Ryan T. Blystone