Amanda Reyes cannot help peering ahead into the future, fidgeting to catch a glimpse of what’s to come.
“I was the type of kid—and now the type of adult—who can’t sit still or stay put,” says the tenacious, determined, and above all, deeply motivated 23-year-old who graduates this spring with a master’s in English.
Her passion for learning and teaching is described as infectious by her peers and mentors, and her litany of accomplishments and achievements during her six years at CSU Dominguez Hills (she also received her bachelor’s in English in 2012) reflect that: She is the founder of the English Graduate Association (EGA), where she started the campus’ first English Language Conference, is chief editor of Enjambed literary magazine, embedded a multi-modal approach to English composition course material which places an emphasis on visual aids, placed second at the university’s Student Research Day in 2012 and 2013, and has had numerous examples of her work published, including in CSU Fullerton’s pedagogical journal, “Pupil.”
She managed all of that while maintaining a near-perfect grade point average and working as an assistant lead English supplemental instructor (SI) to help promote social justice, diversity, and awareness of academic discourse as it relates to student identity.
For all this, Reyes was awarded with both the Outstanding Student Award and the Presidential Award for Leadership and Innovation at this year’s Presidential Student Leadership and Service Awards, where the campus community honors their peers for tireless work in improving campus life, creating innovative teaching methods and being a leader.
Humbled and appreciative of the recognition, Reyes credits her signature whirlwind energy for balancing her academic, professional and personal life.
“Because of my work ethic and internal motivation, I was able to stay focused in multiple aspects of my life,” she said.
According to Peggy Ozaki, assistant director of the Toro Learning Center, Reyes is a “forward thinker and self-starter who will always challenge the norms that have been taken for granted.”
“She is a strong example of how a student can utilize the various academic opportunities at CSUDH to create pathways that can lead to campus change,” said Ozaki, who has been Reyes’ mentor during her time at the university.
According to Reyes, Ozaki and other mentors on campus have single-handedly changed her life forever: “They truly taught me how to stay patient and persistent and to never let the fire inside me burn out regardless of the numerous obstacles.”
As graduation looms, Reyes reflects back on her passion for learning and teaching, explaining that her incredible determination and ambition were sparked by her family.
“My father’s family came to this country from Guatemala when my dad was 13 years old,” she said. “Ever since, they have all worked tirelessly to support their children and grandchildren in taking advantage of the opportunities this country has to offer.”
She says that although her parents came from completely different backgrounds—her mother was born in Connecticut and came to California as a teen—they both instilled in her a love of education.
“My parents always made a point to emphasize the importance of education in my life and that seed has been a major factor in my drive to not only succeed, but thrive in academia,” Reyes said, adding that even when finances took a toll on her family, her parents prioritized her education above all else. “My parents, regardless of money problems, always found a way to get me into good schools, even if those good schools meant me having to transfer every couple of years.”
Growing up in a “bi-cultural background,” was difficult for Reyes: “Looking like a ‘white girl’ but being raised Guatemalan affected my childhood in the sense that I was constantly torn about my identity.”
“I was made to feel uncomfortable or ashamed for many things in my life whether it be my gender, culture, skin color, financial circumstance, sexuality, political views, style, or even my way of being,” she added.
The one thing that helped her overcome the negativity was the release she found in reading and writing. She uses literacy to vent, analyze and theorize why she’s feeling a certain way and to help improve her outlook. To her, that kind of freedom was revolutionary and inspired her to help others to utilize it as well.
As a supplemental instructor in the English department, she works closely with students and is blown away by how they use literacy to reach deep levels of understanding about themselves, society and culture.
“I’ve seen students really grab onto this stuff and do something that I could never even imagine or dream about,” she said. “To see that just keeps me going. Seeing the effects of it is probably the most powerful and life-changing thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m looking forward to helping even more students achieve that.”
The figurative next stage of Reyes’ life will begin as soon as she crosses a literal stage during commencement. As she mentally prepares herself to tackle new projects and initiatives, she says that her passion for teaching has led her to look for jobs as a lecturer at several colleges and universities and hopes to one day get her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition.
However, she says her heart belongs at CSUDH, where she would like to continue her career— as long as she “can manage not getting a few more ulcers,” she jokes.
“I would love to work in administration in the English department I work under, whether that means running a tutoring center or even facilitating training and workshops,” Reyes said of her goal, wherever finds herself working.
She reiterated that her tireless energy and desire to constantly move forward were refined into drive and motivation during her time at CSUDH, turning her into a leader who turns thought into innovative action.
“I have had to find ways to make both noticeable and subtle changes, find support, and convince others that their efforts and sacrifice will be worthwhile,” she said. “I am extremely grateful to the university for teaching me that.”