I am thrilled to join the Trellis Foundation as their Program Officer of Knowledge Sharing! My educational background in public policy and higher education, in conjunction with my research interests in college access and success, aligns well with the Foundation’s mission of advancing equitable educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color in Texas.
My interest in improving postsecondary attainment for students stems from my personal upbringing and educational experiences. I was born and raised in a small border town along the US-Mexico border. As a child, I made weekly trips to Mexico with my family to buy clothes, visit relatives, and enjoy authentic Mexican food and candy. I spoke Spanglish, celebrated both Dieciséis Septiembre and Fourth of July, and listened to corridos and country music. My ability to live between two cultures was integral in helping me navigate the language and culture of higher education as a first-generation college-going Latina.
My college aspirations were fueled by my parents—both Mexican immigrants and migrant farmworkers. From a young age, they reiterated to my siblings and I the importance of earning a postsecondary education. Determined to honor my parents’ sacrifices, I viewed education as the golden ticket to realizing the American Dream—the belief that anyone, regardless of race, class, or gender, can achieve upward mobility through hard work. I wholeheartedly believed that my success was dependent on my good choices and, most importantly, my effort. Listening to my family’s stories about growing up in Mexico and their lack of educational opportunities helped me put hardships into perspective. I assumed that hard work and being able to attend school—a privilege that was not afforded to my parents—was more than enough to earn my golden ticket to success.
It has been 10 years since I first navigated the college-going process as a high school senior. The process made me feel like an outsider navigating two different (and often colliding) worlds. Since then, I have earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, started pursuing a doctoral degree, and participated in research projects that critically interrogate systemic barriers in higher education.
These experiences have changed how I view education. While I still believe in its transformative power, I no longer believe that education is the key to the traditional American Dream ideology. I have come to realize that the story of the American Dream is one that disregards the historic and pervasive structural barriers found in students’ (and their families’) educational pipelines. These barriers can create, maintain, and restrict students’ access to educational resources and opportunities. I now understand the importance of identifying and addressing the unequal and highly stratified playing field in which students are afforded college opportunities.
My personal background and educational experiences have instilled a fervor in me to bridge and blend research and practice to improve the educational conditions of students—and this position with the Trellis Foundation enables me to do just that! I look forward to collaborating with postsecondary partners, sharing grantees’ wealth of knowledge with the field, and supporting the innovative ideas and strategies aimed at improving the educational attainment of students across Texas.
About the Author
Dianey R. Leal joined Trellis Foundation as the Program Officer of Knowledge Sharing in 2021. In this position, she is responsible for developing, implementing, and managing a communication plan that assists the Foundation’s grantee knowledge-sharing strategy to improve supports for students. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dianey participated in a number of research projects aimed at better understanding the structural inequities found in the educational pipelines of students. She is currently a committee member for the Latinx/a/o Student Success Initiative at Michigan State University.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science and English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward’s University and holds a Master of Public Service and Administration from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. In 2021, Dianey earned a professional certification in college access counseling from Rice University, and she is currently pursuing a dual major doctorate degree in higher education and Chicano/Latino studies at Michigan State University.