Adoption Changed Everything - Elizabeth Nuñez

Elizabeth Nunez, First Generation college grad, at the Student Community Center mural.
Elizabeth Nunez stands in front of the mural of the Student Community Center, "a place where students can be supported for exactly who they are. The Student Community Center is a smaller community within the bigger UC Davis community. The energy in the space is contagious." Photo: Daniel Oberbauer

Elizabeth M. Nuñez, EdD

Associate Director, Undergraduate Research Center

Tell us about your first generation background. Where did you grow up and what is your family history? What is unique about your story?

I am from Phoenix, Arizona and no one from by biological family went to college. I grew up in the Maryvale area of Phoenix which is known for its gang and drug activity. After my biological mom passed when I was thirteen, I was adopted by my 7th grade social studies teacher. She literally saved my life by removing me from a violent and unstable home.

How did you end up in college? What brought you to UC Davis?

It was after I was adopted by my mom, Gina Nuñez, that college become a thought of mine. I always knew what college was and that it was something folks did after high school but I never thought it was something I could do. My mom changed that by making sure to ask me questions and talk to me about the possibilities I could have if I went to college.

The conversations went from if I was going to college to when I was going to go to college, and I began to really believe that it might happen.

I came to UC Davis as a staff member in September 2018. UC Davis has been a place of interest for me since I moved to California in 2014. I have friends who are alums and speak of their time at Davis as transformational and I wanted to be a part of that. So when the opportunity came to apply for a job at UC Davis I made sure to jump on it. As Associate Director of the Undergraduate Research Center, I have an amazing opportunity to help students discover what it means to do research. UC Davis offers such a wealth of opportunity in this area, but a lot of students don't know how to get started. 

What were you afraid of about college?

Failing and not knowing how to tell my family. This is a still a fear of mine because my family has surrounded me with love and dedication that has allowed me to be my true self. I fear letting them down and not doing them proud. Since I am new here, I am not too familiar with resources specific to the UC Davis campus but as I continue to meet people and make connections identifying resources and allies becomes more natural.

How my background helped me:

From zero to 13, I grew up in a hectic environment.  That taught me how to understand when a situation or environment is not healthy for me, and how to remove myself from toxic environments. From the age of 13 to current, I have had the blessing of having a family that knows no boundaries when it comes to support and love. This has taught me the importance of having a village that wholeheartedly supports you regardless of how much knowledge or resources they might have.

Have you been mentored by a faculty member/advisor on campus? Has someone on campus made an impact on you?

Since I have only been on campus for a month, I have not been able to make this connect just yet. However, I feel like I am making strides on this as I meet people on campus. Prior to my time at UC Davis, I have been mentored and this has made a big impact on my educational journey. I would say that I met most of my mentors during my undergraduate experience at the University of Arizona. I still have strong connections with these mentors and communicate with them regularly despite being located all over the US. As I moved through my masters and doctoral degree I continue to be blessed with the opportunity for impactful mentorship. I also intentionally look for ways to give back to my community by mentoring emerging scholars at all levels of education.

What would you tell a first-year student?

You are not alone and there are people who want to see you succeed. Even if you doubt yourself, there are people who believe in you as a person. Reach out in ways that feel comfortable to you. Go to events, office hours, centers, make appointments, and utilize the resources (both programmatic and human) around you.

What are your future goals?

One of my goals that is specific to UC Davis is to empower and support any student who wants to engage in undergraduate research regardless of their academic preparedness or personal background. If they have the slightest interest, I want to make sure to support their exploration.

In time, I would welcome the opportunity to teach in a masters and/or doctoral program with focus on higher education, student affairs, and/or educational leadership.

Learn more about the Undergraduate Research Center