Mulvaney Center's Maria Silva Receives Cone Award as Emerging Leader

Maria Silva '12 and director of community partnerships for the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, is the 2020 Richard Cone Award winner as an Emerging Leader.Maria Silva, far right, is the 2020 recipient of the Richard Cone Award as an Emerging Leader in Community Engagement. Silva feels the award is a positive honor as a woman of color.

Maria Silva ’12 (BA), director of community partnerships for USD’s Karen and Tom Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action, has been recognized for her outstanding community work by the California Campus Compact organization.

Silva is the 2020 recipient of the California Campus Compact Richard E. Cone Award for Emerging Leaders in Community Engagement. The award — which is named for the retired USC Joint Educational Project director and a guiding spirit in the development of California Campus Compact — honors an exemplary early-career individual who is an emerging leader in the field of community engagement, whose work has had a positive impact on campus and in the community and who is guided by best practices of community-campus partnerships.

“I’m so happy that Maria is recognized in this meaningful way. She is so deserving of this award,” said Elaine Ikeda, PhD, executive director of California Campus Compact. “We are grateful for Maria’s powerful leadership as she epitomizes what this award truly means. We’re excited to highlight her exemplary work in the field of service-learning and civic engagement.”

Silva called her selection “humbling” and “unbelievable,” noting she has been working within the center since her freshman year at USD — 12 years ago — and has been helped by working alongside key colleagues such as Chris Nayve, John Loggins and former director Elaine Elliott.

“I’ve had incredible role models in Chris, John and Elaine,” Silva said. “This makes me stop and reflect on the trust I’ve been able to establish with our community members and to think of myself as an emerging leader as a woman of color.”

Silva is from Nogales, Mexico, a border town next to Arizona, and commuted to school (K-12) in Arizona. Much of the work she’s done has been guided by her upbringing, both in Linda Vista and the San Diego-Tijuana border region.

Nayve, USD’s Associate Vice President of Community Engagement and Anchor Initiatives at the Mulvaney Center, believes Silva’s binational orientation to Mexico and the U.S. is critical to her approach, as it gives her unique insight in navigating literal and figurative border crossings.

“Maria is one of the very few people I have met who unambiguously and wholeheartedly lives and practices the concept of radical hospitality in a way that truly holds the academy accountable to equity, community, love and mutuality,” Nayve said.

“Maria has built enduring and genuine relationships with many community partners throughout the region,” he continued. “Her practice of developing deeply rooted, democratic, reciprocal relationships was a fundamental shift in the traditional ways universities engage in community. Her approach is considered a best practice for universities that engage in social innovation, community engagement and place-based justice, with an anchor mission. Her humble and powerful approach has transformed our campus.”

Silva sees the award as proof of the value of collaboration, building relationships and partnerships. And as a woman of color, she’s well-aware that receiving this award is not just recognizing her, but those who are coming up after her.

“It is validation that this work matters, that it’s valued,” Silva said. “It’s a special recognition because of the inclusive spaces that have been created for diverse voices to be heard.”

Silva, who earned a master’s degree in migration studies from the University of San Francisco, has been involved in a plethora of activities and actions to champion underserved communities and individuals while at USD.

Before earning her degree in sociology with minors in international relations and peace and justice studies, Silva led an education program in an indigenous village in the Copper Canyon of Mexico. After graduation, she worked at the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a Community Development Financing Institution, before returning to USD and the Mulvaney Center. In her current role, she facilitates collaboration with neighborhood and community stakeholders to co-create campus/community engagement that represents democratic, reciprocal and equitable partnerships in Linda Vista, City Heights, Logan Heights and Tijuana.

“I’ve seen her work tirelessly to advocate for the people of Linda Vista as well as broker numerous initiatives to bring resources to us,” said community partner Pastor Noel Musicha. “Maria’s work has had a lasting impact not only on us as neighborhood leaders and partners, but also on USD students and our constituents.

“She’s helped open up a dual pipeline that has inspired and encouraged student volunteers to come and serve alongside the community as well as help the community use space at USD for different neighborhood projects and programs,” Musicha said. “Her footprint in the work we do together is tremendous.”

Indeed, Silva’s reach has been vast. She’s had a successful on-campus collaboration with Sociology Assistant Professor Greg Prieto to raise overall campus community awareness of DACA students at USD and the issues that surround them. Silva and Prieto have co-led UndocuAlly trainings for faculty, staff and administrators to educate and provide updates regarding DACA legislation and related topics. Last spring, she and Prieto spoke at the Kroc School’s Peace Innovators event on “UndocuAllies: Inclusion in an Age of Exclusion.”

She also works with Rachel Christensen, assistant director for The Brink Small Business Development Center at USD. The two received approval to work toward the creation of a Tijuana hub and classroom. A strategic initiative grant winner, this collaboration will see them map USD’s footprint in Tijuana and identify and pilot the use of a physical presence in Tijuana for USD-affiliated projects.

While Silva’s workload is often overflowing, she sees receiving the Cone Award, as “an energy boost for sure. This work is messy, and it can be as draining as it is engaging. It can be tricky to come at it from a higher education level and enter the community.”

But Silva has been doing this work long enough to know it’s worth it. “My heart is in community engagement through higher education. It has planted the seeds for me and has been such a great learning experience.”

— Ryan T. Blystone


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