Claremont, Calif. (February 2, 2018)— Each year Pitzer College recognizes two alumni for embodying Pitzer’s core values. The 2018 awardees are Michele Siqueiros ’95, the Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA) recipient, and Noreen Barcena ’09, the Young Alumni Achievement Award (YAAA) winner. Pitzer Alumni Association President Tim Campos ’10 describes both as “rock stars” in their work for social justice for underserved communities. Siqueiros and Barcena will be recognized at a dinner during the 2018 Alumni Weekend of April 27-29.
For the DAA award, Campos said the alumni board selection committee identifies alumni who have gone above and beyond in their leadership roles, while incorporating Pitzer core values in their respective professions. “We also look for alumni who have engaged with the College and with current students in some capacity, or they are contributing to their community with Pitzer values connecting their service work.”
For the YAAA, given to alumni who have graduated within the last decade, the selection committee pays attention to how these recent graduates incorporate Pitzer’s core values into their lives and work.
“This year’s recipients stood out because the work they are doing is not just benefiting a local community, but also a larger population,” said Campos. “Michele is a prime example of a change maker, really focusing on a commitment to education on the national level. She is leading educational reform and opportunities for young people both here at the state capitol and in Washington.”
“As a lawyer, Noreen has been advocating for fair and humane immigration reform, while providing a handful of helpful resources for her clients, many of whom are part of the immigrant community. Her tireless work to serve a community that has been disenfranchised really shows her commitment to making a difference.”
Michele Siqueiros ’95 is president for the Campaign for College Opportunity, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that aims to increase the number of students attending two- and four-year colleges in California through higher education policy advocacy and reform, coalition-building and research. In 2010, when she was the nonprofit’s executive director, she led a historic policy reform effort that makes it easier for students to transfer from any California community college to the California State University system. She also led support for the passage of the Student Success Act of 2012.
Siqueiros serves as a state and national spokesperson on higher education in California, with regular contributions to major newspapers and TV outlets across the state. She is on the boards of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, the EdSource Advisory Council and Alliance for a Better Community. In 2005, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Siqueiros to the Board of Neighborhoods, which oversees the citywide system of neighborhood councils. Additionally, she is co-chair of the Latino Jewish Roundtable for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles. In 2014, La Opinión named her the Hispanic Leader awardee for her leadership in education, and in 2015, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation named Siqueiros as Woman of the Year. A first-generation student at Pitzer, she graduated with a degree in political studies and Chicano studies and earned an MA in urban planning from UCLA.
Reflecting on her college experience and exposure to Pitzer’s core values, Siqueiros said: “Pitzer College took me in at 18 years young and opened my eyes to a new world. I don’t say this lightly. Until I arrived at Pitzer—as the first in my family to go to college, as a young Latina, having grown up in a very low income household—I had not been exposed to the type of critical thinking that the Pitzer education gave me: the ability to think critically about our history, our politics, appreciate my culture and the contributions of immigrants, women and people of color. Pitzer not only allowed me to learn and understand the world around me, it empowered me to realize that I could help make the world a better place.”
At Pitzer, Siqueiros seamlessly mixed academia with activism. She marched in the funeral procession for Cesar Chavez and helped organize Pitzer’s first alternative spring break service in partnership with the United Farmworkers Union. She volunteered on her first political campaign and studied abroad in the Dominican Republic.
“I hope alums and students take the gifts that Pitzer offers and are able to find their own passion,” Siqueiros said. “There are many problems that need our attention; the beauty of a Pitzer education is the opportunity to explore what you’re most passionate about and how you can best use your talent. I am fortunate that my work’s mission is to expand college opportunity for more Californians—I do this because it was college that changed my life. I know the power of what an education can do to move a low-income kid like me out of poverty and into a successful career. Everyone should have that opportunity.”
Young Alumni Achievement Award recipient Noreen Barcena ’09 has been practicing criminal defense, immigration and family law since earning her JD from the University of La Verne College of Law. At Pitzer, she was a psychology and organizational studies major with a minor in Chicano studies.
Barcena has argued before the Ninth Circuit Court and is a frequent attorney contributor for Telemundo, ABC7, Univision and Hoy. Barcena is a founding member and executive board member of Ferias Legales, a non-profit which is committed to bringing knowledge and justice to under-served populations. Barcena is a volunteer with the Catholic Big Brothers and Sisters Program, and Montebello Unified School District’s College Bound Today Program. She often volunteers at legal fairs to help the community. Each year, Barcena volunteers both with local doctors as an interpreter and with IMAHelps to organize medical missions to underserved populations.
While at Pitzer, Barcena founded a cultural events program, which provided students an opportunity to learn about other cultures, and was a mentor for the Chicano Latino Student Affairs office.
On learning of her selection as the YAA awardee, Barcena said: “I feel honored, and humbled because the award means that I’m at the beginning of a journey in my life and career. It gives me hope that my work is not in vain, and it fuels my passion to help my community through Ferias Legales, the organization my friends, colleagues and I founded. Immigration law is a constant uphill battle of trying to keep families together, helping people seek refuge from their countries, and standing up to constant criticism and backlash. This award is a reminder to me that I need to keep fighting for my clients, my community and my people.”
Barcena explains that her Pitzer education and its core values helped spark her career path. “Had it not been for the curriculum encouraging me to go outside of my comfort zone, I would never have thought to take a course on migration to the United States, or become interested in law. At Pitzer, we were taught the importance of social responsibility, and social justice, which I really took to heart. I realized that in order to make the world a better place, we have to be ready and willing to give back to the world.”
Barcena, who served as a Pitzer College Admission Alumni Interviewer in fall 2017, gives this advice to future and current students and other young alumni: “Pitzer’s motto is to be ‘Mindful of the Future’, and, I think, that means striving to be the best version of yourself.”