Driven by a commitment to make education more accessible and equitable, Georgetown alumni Nicolo Orozco (C’19) and Luisa Santos (C’14) recently ran for and were elected to school boards in their hometowns. Both say they are eager to use their personal experiences and skills gained at Georgetown to shape their local communities.
Sabrina Wesley-Nero, director of Georgetown’s program on Education, Inquiry, and Justice (EDIJ), worked closely with both Orozco and Santos while they were at Georgetown and says that both alumni were determined to learn from the ways they had overcome past obstacles in order to use those lessons to inform the ways they pursued future opportunities.
“Both evidenced a commitment to equity in education with a focus on those who were the farthest from opportunity,” she said.
Drawing on strong community ties
Santos moved to Miami from Bogota, Columbia, at age eight, and recalls learning in high school that she was an undocumented student. She says that she knew early on that she wanted to give back to her community, specifically in ensuring that students are mentored and supported throughout their time in the K-12 school system.
Santos, who has since become a U.S. citizen, started her postsecondary education at Miami Dade College and ultimately earned her undergraduate degree at Georgetown in political economy with an EDIJ minor. Following her time at Georgetown, when she also gained experience working in the U.S. Department of Education, Santos returned to her Miami hometown to found her own business, Lulu’s Ice Cream, and serve in her local community.
“Being by and from the community allows me to ensure that the [school board] policies enacted are actually to the benefit of my community,” says Santos, whose seat oversees 80 schools with more than 90,000 students. After assuming her school board seat, Santos quickly introduced a proposal to ensure undocumented students in the district understand their college options; the measure passed unanimously, WLRN 91.3 FM reports.
Advocating for diversity, access for students with disabilities
Orozco, who majored in psychology, also with an EDIJ minor, was similarly inspired by his own educational experiences. Having worked in Washington, D.C.’s public school system during the academic year and in his hometown, Yuba City, California, schools during the summer breaks, Orozco was moved to advocate for transparency and improved special education services in Yuba City schools.
“In DC public schools when students with disabilities were promised services, they received those services, which is not always the case in Yuba City,” he describes. “Working as a paraeducator, with the distinct qualifications I had earned at Georgetown, I was able to more concretely advocate for students and explain their needs, but I still faced systemic obstacles fighting for equal access for students with disabilities in the system. I have always been passionate about serving the students I worked with and thought I could serve more effectively on the school board than I could as an employee.”
In spite of a competitive election, Orozco edged out the incumbent opponent, garnering more votes than any preceding school board candidate. As a board member, he plans to focus on advancing diversity within schools.
Santos and Orozco will both be the youngest members on their respective school boards.