Introducing Michael A. Parra, a fellowships administrator in the Graduate Division. He runs fellowship application workshops, troubleshoots fellowship issues, and ensures all fellowship money is disbursed. I sat down with Michael to hear about his journey to Cal and why the Campanile courtyard will always have a special place in his heart.
Marie Claire: How did you find yourself at Berkeley?
Michael Parra: Well, I’m originally from Southern California. I was a spring admit, so I started school as an undergrad in January 2008. As I was coming to the end of my undergraduate career, I did not want to go back. So, literally three days after my last final, I started out as full-time staff at the School of Public Health working the front desk. Then, I kept working my way through different administrative positions, gaining experience at the school until last year when I joined Graduate Division.
MC: What about the Cal experience made you want to come here? What made you want to stay?
MP: I think of it as a cycle of philanthropy. As high school students and even as undergrads, we have had advisors, professors, or supervisors that impacted our lives and helped make us successful.
Being staff, I’m able to help in return and be that resource. If I’m asked a question or a student has an issue where I can be involved— being that person to vent to, or even just asking how they’re doing— that is something that I find myself doing all the time, it’s something that’s organic. Sometimes I get emails from students that say “Hi Mr. Parra,” and I kind of feel like they’re talking to my dad.
In advising, I always try to make that personal connection. I try to demystify things so you know who we are and how we can help.
MC: What do you find is the highlight of your job? What’s your favorite part about waking up and coming to Sproul Hall every morning?
MP: Being part of a team. In my previous role, I was the only fellowships individual for a whole department, and coming to Graduate Division I’m part of the fellowship team. We have a close community and find ways to solve issues that the students are facing. It’s about creating ways to guide students and I think that that’s refreshing to me because it’s something I haven’t particularly done before, and in general. I can see the end product of how I serve students and how I’ve made them feel better about their situations. At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is make sure that the students who are promised money get the money. And we try to eliminate barriers that keep them from their funding.
MC: So, for students that want to make that connection with you, what’s the best way for them to reach out?
MP: Email Email. Email. Email. And, I remember a key tip from when I was a student, which is to always keep a paper trail. If students reach out to me with a concern, or a question, or they just need a little bit of guidance, having that paper trail is really important because they can always look back to it. If there is someone that challenges a student about funding and they come back and say, ‘Well this professor says x y z,” you need to be able to show it comes from your department, and these are the steps that any professor or department staff needs to take in order to rectify your funding issue. So, be sure that any claims that you make are backed up by some type of evidence.
MC: What’s your favorite spot on campus?
MP: Well, when I was in the 9th grade, I came to Cal for the very first time. I was in love with sitting in the trees by the Campanile.
It was refreshing. It was so open and it was kind of different from my home life. I was a little bit close-minded and trapped within the San Fernando Valley walls. Now, I think anywhere on campus is great. I love walking around.
MC: What are you looking forward to. Do you have any particular vision for this year or goals that you’ve created for yourself?
MP: My goal is to host more workshops for fellowships. To act as administrators for the graduates, as well, as host trainings for staff, in relation to processing awards or troubleshooting financial aid.
I love being in front of the crowd. I love being a facilitator of conversations and workshops. When a student has been able to connect to resources, they learn there is no single right way to apply to a fellowship. By providing students with as many resources as possible, they can make their own collegiate decision on what to say, and how to pitch themselves.
MC: When you’re not at work what are you probably doing.
MP: I am currently the National President for the first and largest Latin fraternity in the United States: Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. We were established in 1975 to raise the social and political consciousness of the Latin male college student.
And, of course, since then we’re now not only an organization of Cubans and Puerto Ricans; being coast to coast, we have a wide range of not only Latin cultures but also cultures of communities that see the vision. So we have Jewish brothers, Palestinian brothers and it’s about the mission. It is how we brought our sense of brotherhood to a fraternity, to be able to put away our differences in order to get to a common ground, though we don’t always agree on everything.
And, I think to be the first Californian as National President and a UC Berkeley grad, I brought that outside perspective, that hasn’t been there since 1975. I’m able to bring a level of intellectualism and political consciousness, as well as a lot of my literary theory into the work I do for Lambda.
During the civil rights movement, the black fraternities and sororities were very courageous in taking what was predominately an ivory tower conversation–social justice, public health, health literacy–and they went to the churches, the choir practices, the town halls in the community. They brought the community into the conversation so that when there was a political movement it was not just college students. And I see that the Latino Greek movement has the potential to do that, leading the fight in the second wave of civil rights. Today we’re more connected to social media, and to how our political system works. I think we spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter or any social media, and some practices—posting things, but not really understanding and knowing. That’s the challenge I think we’re facing — to step away from the apparatuses and to now build up and get more engaged with the community and become more action-oriented.
Read about the fellowships Michael administers.
Marie Claire de Martino is the editorial and social media assistant in the Graduate Division.