Lorena Aguilera Santana

Lorena Aguilera Santana
2018 Van Ek Awardee

Lorena Aguilera Santana, a double-major in women and gender studies and sociology, has been chosen as one of this year's Jacob Van Ek Scholars, awarded by the College of Arts and Sciences at CU Boulder for outstanding academic achievement and contributions to the university. The award was established in 1973 to honor Jacob Van Ek, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at CU Boulder from 1929 to 1959. Students must meet the GPA requirements and be nominated for this award by a faculty member at CU Boulder.

Lorena was nominated for this award by Dr. Robert Buffington, professor of women and gender studies, and Sabrina Sideris, director of the INVST Community Studies Program. Having taught Lorena in several of his courses, Dr. Buffington related that "Lorena is a brilliant student and a lovely person—one of the smartest and most personable undergraduates I have encountered in over 20 years of teaching." He also noted that "her articulate contributions to class discussion and thoughtful response papers indicated a sophisticated understanding of difficult texts, an excellent grasp of geopolitics, a well-developed cultural sensitivity, and a maturity with regard to provocative material that is remarkable in an undergraduate student."

In addition to her studies in women and gender studies and sociology, Lorena is active in the INVST Community Studies Program, a highly competitive and interdisciplinary program at CU, which integrates academics with community-based engagement opportunities. Through INVST, she has served Intercambio Uniting Communities, and this summer plans to learn first-hand about documentation, sanctuary cities, labor justice, and economic justice. Lorena is currently involved in the Boulder Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, a group that grew from the INVST community. She explains, "our goal is to expand voting rights in the City of Boulder to all residents regardless of citizenship status. We are focusing on understanding immigrants' experiences and needs in Boulder, in order to create a strong coalition that can advocate for every resident's right to vote on the local policies that directly affect them." Sideris writes that "INVST is thrilled to have Lorena’s participation, as her insightful contributions and forward-thinking questions always compel her classmates to engage as fully as she does, and show her educators how eager Lorena is to put what she is learning to good use."

Lorena is currently working on an honors thesis, titled Community, Social Networks and Support: The Case of Mexican Migrant Women in Boulder County. "With this thesis," writes Lorena, "my hope is to illustrate the ways migrant women from Mexico perceive and experience support through their social networks. I highlight the importance of family ties, social institutions, and gender roles in the ways women understand and negotiate their positions in their communities. Given how the different intersections of identity shape immigration experiences and access to resources, I wanted to understand the way social networks influence the lived experiences of migrant women."

This past summer, Lorena volunteered with the "Café Mujer" program in her hometown of Michoacán, Mexico which provides forums for working women to have conversations on work and family issues in a supportive and empowering environment. Buffington writes that "layered on top of a demanding academic schedule, these volunteer activities demonstrate Lorena’s commitment to community-building and social justice outside the academy." As Buffington concludes, "if academic ability and bi-national community involvement weren’t enough, Lorena is a delightful person: enthusiastic, thoughtful, generous, compassionate, hard working and conscientious."