Junnell “Jay” Novelo didn’t have the best high school experience. “I couldn’t relate to most of my teachers,” he said. “It was really hard for me to find someone I could approach and talk to about different issues or about how I felt.”
Novelo hoped for a different experience in college. He attended a semester at Washington State University but never felt at home. Novelo went online and did some research. He liked what UW Tacoma had to offer and transferred.
Originally a history major, Novelo switched to ethnic, gender and labor studies after taking a sociology class with Associate Professor Emily Ignacio. “I never had teachers who were open about talking about race and gender until I got here,” said Novelo.
Novelo wants to have more of these conversations, which is one reason why he decided to become a high school teacher in either social studies or English. He is already enrolled in the graduate teaching program at UW Seattle. “I feel like school is your second home,” said Novelo. “You want students to feel like they’re safe in that environment and can come talk to you.”
Novelo found that second home at UW Tacoma especially in the Student Transitions Programs (STP). Novelo worked in the office alongside Stephon Harris, Amanda Figueroa and DJ Crisostomo. “Working with them and others in the STP really helped me lay the foundation of who I am and where I want to go,” said Novelo. “I don’t really like recognition but the compliments I got from the people there really meant a lot to me.“
A first-generation student, Novelo got a chance to work with a university task force that developed “We are First Generation.” The project highlights different stories of current and former first-gen students. “When you see people like Chancellor Pagano and other staff and faculty mention that they are first-generation, it makes you slow down and realize you’ll get there someday,” said Novelo.
Novelo’s involvement on campus did not go unnoticed. A staff member in the Center for Student Involvement nominated him for this year’s Husky 100, a university-wide honor that recognizes students who have made the most out of their time at UW. At first Novelo didn’t know if he wanted to apply. He eventually decided to fill out the application, not for himself, but for others. “I feel like so many people saw the potential in me and I wanted to honor that,” he said.
Being the center of attention isn’t Novelo’s style: he didn’t really want to walk at Commencement. “My parents regretted not going to college even when they had the opportunity,” said Novelo. “Graduation is a big deal to them and so I decided I needed to be there.”
An awareness of others is a defining character trait of Jay Novelo. This quality should serve him well in his role as a teacher. “As a person of color, being able to show students that we can succeed, that education is for everyone, is important to me.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org